This piece was written for “The Towerlight” at Towson University as a Staff Writer and was co-written with my news editor. Check out this, and other stories from The Towerlight here:
Lecturer and activist Jane Elliott presented “The Anatomy of Prejudice,” a discussion on challenging societal systems of oppression, Sept. 28 in SECU arena.
Elliot is a former third-grade teacher, as well as an anti-racist educator, feminist and LGBTQ+ activist.
In the presentation, Elliott discussed her most notable exercise – the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise.
She created the exercise after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I was furious,” Elliott said. “I was instantly furious.”
The day after King’s death, Elliott wanted to make her third-grade students feel what it felt like to be discriminated against for a physical characteristic over which they had no control.
“I had to try to explain to my third graders why MLK Jr. was in the street and how it would feel to be treated the way we treated black people at that time,” Elliott said. “And the way we’re still treating black people at this time.”
According to Elliott, the exercise created a “microcosm of society” that represented the way many people in the United States treat minorities as a whole.
Elliott described this as a “nationwide experiment.”
“If what I do in that short two hours with adults is an experiment, and it’s a microcosm of society, then what we have been doing in this country for 400 years is an experiment,” Elliott said.
For the first part of the experiment, blue-eyed children were treated better than brown-eyed ones.
Blue-eyed students got to go to lunch first, got more recess time and could drink from the water fountain without using a cup.
Brown-eyed students went to lunch after blue-eyed students, had less recess time and could only use the water fountain with a cup.
The blue-eyed students discriminated against the brown-eyed students during the first week of the experiment.
For the second part of the experiment, the roles switched.
Elliott was surprised when the brown-eyed people didn’t try to seek revenge.
She said it was because the brown-eyed students didn’t want to make the blue-eyed students feel the way they made them feel.
After she introduced the event, Elliott and her family experienced backlash from the community when her parents lost their business and her children were severely bullied by other members of their class.
“There are lots of people who grow older in this country, but not many who grow up,” Elliott said.
Elliot also discussed issues of sexism, ageism, homophobia and ethnocentrism during the event.
“These differences are important,” Elliott said. “See them. Recognize them. Enjoy them.”
Students were expected to stay for the whole duration of the event and were not allowed to get up to use the bathroom during the event.
“It was totally worth it, I just was really needing to pee by the end,” senior Dan Bowley said. “But it was perfect.”
Elliott also encouraged students to vote during this year’s presidential election.
She said that this election will not only determine what happens over the next four years, but will affect what happens hundreds of years from now, and that some people don’t realize this.
“Some people prefer ignorance. You can’t solve their problems,” Elliott said. “The way you behave today is going to determine how you’re treated in the future.”