Jane Elliot’s blue eyes/brown eyes experiment on racism.
Jane Elliot is an 84 years woman who is best known for her famous blue/brown eye experiment on racism. On the 5th of April 1968, one day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, Elliot, who was a third-grade teacher, took her students through the experiment to expose and teach them about racial prejudice. According to Elliot, prejudice is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.
In the experiment, Jane divided her all-white class into two groups based on the color of their eyes. Those with blue eyes formed one group, while those with brown eyes formed the other. She then proceeded to tell them that people with brown eyes were more smart, intelligent, and better than the blue-eyed people. But she knew that the kids were not going to buy this. So, she came up with a scientific and more realistic explanation stating that the hair, skin, and eye color are caused by a chemical. She went ahead to tell them that melanin is what causes the intelligence, and therefore the more melanin, the more intelligent a person is. Throughout the whole day, she continued to put down the blue-eyed children telling them that all they did was sit down and do nothing.
As Elliot continued to despise the blue-eyed kids and praise the browed-eyed group, she could notice the tension forming. This continued, and by the end of the day, the chasm between the two groups of students had increased. The brown-eyed students had transformed into stronger and more confident leaders of the class while the blue-eyed students became unmotivated and less confident. On Monday, Elliot reversed the experiment. She observed that the blue-eyed kids were less condescending towards the brown-eyed kids. When asked, they said it was because they had felt the pain of being ostracized and would not want to make the other group feel the same pain. At the end of the experiment, Elliot told them that the reason for the experiment was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Both groups hugged while some cried, having learned what racism felt like.
After one month, Elliot’s experiment would grow into a heated debate throughout the country. She was invited to numerous TV shows, newspapers and became the subject of many documentaries, articles, and dozens of textbooks. Fifty years later, Elliot did not expect that she would still be talking about racism. Amidst the ongoing racism conflicts, Elliot continues to talk about lessons learned from her experiment five decades ago.