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Reaction To Jane Elliot’s Blue-eyed, Brown-eyed Experiment

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The purpose of this paper is to reflect upon and react to the exercise “Blue-eyed/Brown-eyed” conducted by Jane Elliot in relation to the ideas of diversity, race, and privilege. The objective of this exercise was to give white people an idea of what life is like to be something other than white. Elliot’s exercise pointed out both blatant and indirect ways that prejudice demoralizes people of color. Elliot facilitates everyone involved aiding their recognition of the cost that prejudice and racial behavior has on an individual. This exercise employed an open dialogue approach on topics that may be looked at as most people as off limits. The dialogue encouraged through the “Blue-eyed/Brown-eyed” experiment allows people to understand what it’s like to feel dispirited and the role they can play through daily interactions with people of the opposite race that promote the aspects of being supportive and understanding.

While watching this video and seeing the relentless way that Jane Elliot demoralized the participants of this study, I was reminded of my past relationship with my son’s father. Watching the shift of confidence in these individuals was startling. The relentless ridicule and humiliation bestowed upon these individuals was sad to watch. As the exercise went on you could see the way these individuals obtained a sense of powerlessness and shame. I was shocked to see such a frail, older white woman create a situation in which participants experience discrimination first hand. Consequently, this experience enabled the participants to actually feel the emotional distresses correlated with this form of abuse. One of Elliot’s statements that really stuck with me was something along the context; these individuals participating only have to live through this reality temporarily but people of color deal with this conduct for life. Looking at the lives of people of color as being a lifelong struggle is disheartening. America is full of beauty from all over the world and people still focus on the outer shell rather than seeing the inner beauty.

Elliot facilitates the exercise with passion and demonstrates her ethical indignation as she talks about her work and experiences. Elliot provides you with the story of how she became so engrossed with the ethics and morality on the topic of race. Then I began to wonder who this woman was and why was she conducting these exercises. I was unsure why this old-fashioned, frail white woman was so passionate about the topics of racism, as well as, the fact that she targets white people for being the ‘problem’ of racism.

Throughout the completion of this paper I have utilized resources on the internet that provided a thorough background of Jane Elliot and all that she has endured since she decided to segregate her classroom in 1968. Elliot decided to combine two lessons, one on Indians and one on Dr. King, that incorporated, “the Indian maxim she had had her students memorize – Oh, Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins” (Bloom, pg. 1). According to Elliot, the eight year olds in her classroom had never met a black person and she wanted to instill in them a complete understanding of what life was like, especially at that time, for a person of color. Elliot implemented this exercise in her classroom in order to point out racial discrimination and to validate how easily people comply in oppressive situations.

Elliot felt that implementing the notion to students that brown eyed students were better, smarter, and superior while blue eyed students were dirty, stupid, and inferior. Elliot went as far as to encourage the brown eyed students not to interact with the blue eyed students, which is something that I feel was Elliot taking the exercise too far. I can understand why she was conducting her experiment but telling students that they are superior to another group and should not associate with one another. These actions in turn will go beyond the classroom where brown eyed students will feel a sense of power over the blue eyed students and may even go farther and attempt to enforce their power.

According to research the children from the original class that were the first participants in this exercise, “had gone home after the exercise and told their parents that racism was wrong, and it was a lesson that stayed with them. Reunions and interviews have shown that the children remember the exercise and are positively affected by it, feeling that it makes them more empathic and sensitive” (Cloviscat, 2003). I had felt that these children were certainly damaged from the severity that the exercise was employed upon them at such a young age. The notion that they were positively affected by the exercise seemed far-fetched. Consequently research shows that this was not the case and that this experiment was able to reach those children deeply and emotionally; which in turn means Elliot instilled a deep understanding of racial discrimination and all that this concept entails in these children and possibly many others.

Through the ideas presented in this movie I feel that my personal vision for putting an end to oppressive acts against others based on our differences rather than working together in order to better this country both efficiently and respectfully despite our differences. I will utilize the lesson learned here in order to cooperatively discourse the impediments we must essentially overcome in order to do away with racism and extinguish the malicious repression of people based on race. I have always embraced the idea of diversity; the Holocaust, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Underground Railroad are all examples of horrific historical events where racism was the cause for the loss of countless innocent lives. My future interactions with others will be approached with a divergent state of thinking on racial discrimination than I had prior to watching this movie. I will now approach my daily interactions with a stronger sense of empathy and morality than I have before in hopes that my behavior will motivate others to adopt my approach to successfully interact with individuals equally despite any physical differences amongst us.


Bloom, S. G. (n.d.). _Blue-eyes, brown eyes: The experiment that shocked the nation and turned a town against its most famous daughter_. Retrieved from http://www.uiowa.edu/~poroi/seminars/2004-5/bloom/poroi_paper.pdf

Cloviscat. (2003, August 19). _Jane elliot and the brown eyes, blue eyes exercise_ . Retrieved from http://h2g2.com/dna/h2g2/A1132480

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