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Jane Elliott is an internationally known teacher, lecturer, and diversity trainer. Elliott is most known for the blue eyes/brown eyes exercise she conducted with her all-white third grade class in Riceville, Iowa following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In the exercise, Elliott told her class that blue-eyed people were smarter and better than brown-eyed people and proceeded to give blue-eyed students an extra five minutes of recess. She also prevented them from playing together on the playground and imposed additional restrictions.
She reversed the experiment the following day and found that the brown-eyed children were more sensitive to the discrimination experienced by their peers having already experienced it. Elliot’s exercise is considered a landmark of social science for revealing how quickly people assume the role of the oppressor and the oppressed with very little social conditioning.
Elliott has repeated the exercise countless times with children and adults, conducting diversity training workshops across the globe.
The following video is a Channel 4 documentary in which Elliott recreates the ground breaking exercise she used forty years ago to teach her nine year-old pupils about prejudice. The exercise used thirty British volunteers from different age groups and backgrounds and exposed them to inequality based on their eye color just like the original exercise.
Elliott’s exercise still has something to teach us all even four decades after she originally conducted it. The following video is presented by Krishnan Guru-Murthy and is observed by two expert psychologists, Prof Dominic Abrams and Dr Funké Baffour, who help dissect the behavior displayed by the participants.
In a statement about the documentary, Elliott says: “Many people go away knowing a whole lot more than they did when they came in, and not just white people. Many people of color think the whole thing is an accident. It’s not an accident. It’s what we (white people) do. It’s how we perpetuate our power.” Elliott hopes that the exercise makes people more aware of how their own actions may be perceived as prejudiced or racist or help perpetuate white power.
Check out the video below to see how easily prejudices take hold and how they affect those involved.