I walked into the auditorium and saw a little old lady on the stage. She had white hair, was short and wore a sweatshirt on that said, “Prejudice is an emotional commitment to ignorance”. This was Jane Elliott – 83-year-old public speaker who introduced the blue-eyed, brown-eyed experiment. She was inspired to do this the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The experiment was meant to show her white students how racism really felt, and how people of the African American race feel every day.
From Belinder Elementary School to Indian Hills Middle School and now to East, I have only had a few people of color in my class. I’m not saying this was either good or bad, but I was rarely introduced to other cultures. And this blinded me to the idea of racism.
I knew what racism was, but I never truly understood the impact it has on people and what it looked like until last Thursday.
Elliott brought two people up on stage during her second presentation, one white man and one black woman. She asked the white male if his race and gender make him feel powerful. He said yes. She asked the black woman if her race and gender make her feel powerful. She said yes. Finally, she asked the black woman if her race and gender make her as powerful as him. She said no. She does not feel as powerful as him because of the assumptions made about people’s race and gender throughout history. Of course, as a white female, I can’t understand the race aspect of discrimination, but I can relate with gender. Because of Jane, I became more aware of the discrimination that happens in the everyday lives of black people.
For the rest of the day it was difficult to focus. I was bothered by the idea of how black people must feel every day. I was more bothered by the fact that after years of attempts to end racism, it’s still happening – all the time.
As much of an impact Elliott has had on me, and many others at East, we need more people to fight this battle. We have a long way to go but we might as well start right at home. Stop making assumptions about race and stop assuming those who are different are wrong. Jane taught us there is no black, white, brown, yellow or red race, there is only human, and we all needed to hear that.