By Jordan Nickels | How do you teach white students about discrimination and racism?
The day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, a small town Iowa teacher named Jane Elliott prepared an experiment for her class. This lesson was called “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes,” where she would treat her students who had blue eyes as superior to those who have brown eyes. This experiment has been repeated countless times over the years, sparking intense outrage in her students and debates that have caused some to leave the classroom. However, in Jane’s eyes, it works every time.
“Somebody has to wear the black hat and give the audience someone to shake their fists at. They want someone to hate. And if that’s what you want to pay me to do, I’m happy to do it!” – Jane Elliott
Jane Elliott was brought up in our first post-show discussion for brownsville song (b-side for tray) when the cast was asked how people not of color could understand what people of color are going through right now, in our time of political unrest in regards to race. While we may not have the same skin pigmentation, we all have qualities that make us different from one another, like our eyes. However, instead of letting those differences separate us, Jane teaches us that these differences should be embraced and allow ourselves to celebrate what makes us unique.
Learn more about Jane Elliott and her other experimental lessons:
Watch PBS’s documentary on Jane Elliott’s original experiment, A Class Divided:
Watch another group participate in “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes”: