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-Jane Elliott, thank you so much for being on our show.
I appreciate it.
For those not familiar with your work,
can you explain what you do?
-I separate groups of people
according to the color of their eyes
in order to give them some idea -- white people --
some idea of how it feels to be treated unfairly
on the basis of a physical characteristic
over which you have no control.
I use blue eyes, brown eyes,
and anybody who doesn't have blue or brown eyes
simply goes in the low class.
I accuse brown eyed people,
who I always put on the top the first day,
of being smarter,
more worthwhile, more Christian,
better human beings than blue-eyed people are,
because everybody knows that blue-eyed people
have too little melanin in your eyes,
and so it allows too much sunlight to enter your eyes
and damage your brain cells.
And that's the reason blue-eyed people aren't as smart
as brown-eyed people. Does that make sense to you?
-No.
-That's the thing that makes this exercise necessary,
is the fact that we in education support the myth of one race
and the myth of the rightness of whiteness.
-How would you talk to or tell or ask white people
to talk to each other about racism?
-The first thing I ask people to do
is realize that there are no white people
on the face of the earth,
now, unless you are an albino,
and if you want to know how that goes, then you look up Tanzania.
Google Tanzania
and look at what happens to albinos in that country.
It's absolutely terrifying and indecent.
However, it's practically what happens
to people of other color groups in the United States of America.
We don't cut them in little pieces,
we kill them in front of cameras.
When you're going to talk to people of color,
the first thing you don't say is,
"When I see people, I don't see people as black or brown
or red or yellow. I just see people as people."
And teachers in schools all over the United States
say that every year.
At least several teachers are saying that to their students.
They say, "I don't see people
as black or brown or red or yellow."
They never put the word "white" in there,
because it's alright to see white, you see.
And when you talk to a person of color,
you have no right to say,
"When I see you, I don't see you black."
And you have no right to say to some ugly female like me,
"I'm color-blind."
And I've dozens and dozens of white women walk up to me
and say, "I'm not racist. I'm color-blind."
And I say, "I knew that you were color-blind before you said it,
because if you weren't color-blind,
you wouldn't wear that shirt with those pants."
-[ Laughs ] -Now...
they take exception to that,
and they walk away very quickly and very angrily,
because I have accused them of lying to their very face.
People who say to me, "I don't see color,
or who say to a black person, "I don't see you as black,"
are saying, "I have the freedom
to deny the largest organ inch by inch on your body
which is your skin."
Now, if you can't see my skin, you can't see me.
It's time for people
to take those phrases out of their lexicon.
-When did you start the exercise,
and with third graders, right?
-The day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.
He had been one of our Heroes of the Month in February,
and he was dead in April.
And we were learning the Indian unit at that time.
Our lesson plan for the next day
was to learn the Sioux Indian prayer
which says, "O Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man
until I've walked a mile in his moccasins."
I was taking the teepee
that my previous third graders had made home.
I was going to wash it and dry it
and iron it on the living room floor.
I walked in my door. The telephone was ringing.
I held the phone. It was my sister.
She said, "Is the television on?" I said no.
She said, "You better turn it on." I said, "Why?"
She said, "They killed him."
And I said, "Who'd we kill this time?"
because we were in a killing mood at that time.
And she said, "Martin Luther King Jr."
And then my world stopped for about 3 seconds.
And I'm sorry, but, you know,
you're not supposed to get all like a soup sandwich,
but whenever I remember that moment in my life,
that is one of the most tearing moments in my life,
because he was trying to make things better for all of us,
not just for black people, and we killed him,
because he and Malcolm X were coming closer together.
And if they had united,
they would have changed this situation,
make no doubt about that.
So they both had to die, and they were killed.
And so I had to go into my classroom the next morning
and explain to my students why Martin Luther King Jr. was dead,
and I didn't know how to do it.
I watched television that night,
and I saw Walter Cronkite
interviewing three leaders of the black community.
And he said to them,
"When our leader was killed, his widow held us together.
Who's going to keep your people in line?"
I was shocked and dismayed
that he would ask those black males that question,
so I changed the channel. And there was Dan Rather
saying to three leaders of the black community,
"Don't you black pe-- you Negroes --
Don't you Negroes think
you should feel sympathy for us white people
because we can't feel the sorrow at -- the anger --
the anger at this killing that you black people can?"
I -- At that moment,
I wadded up the teepee that I was ironing on the floor.
I threw it into the closet.
And at that moment, I decided that not only was I going
to teach my students the Indian prayer the next day,
"O Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man
till I've walked in his moccasins,"
I was going to arrange to have it answered for them.
I was going to allow some of my students
to walk in the shoes of a child of color
in my classroom for a day.
Now, I didn't know how this exercise would work.
If I had known how it would work,
I probably wouldn't have done it.
If I had known that after I did that exercise,
I lost all my friends.
No teacher would speak to me
where they could be seen speaking to me,
because it wasn't good politics
to be seen talking to the town's only N-word lover.
My parents lost their business.
They owned a lunch room in a hotel.
My children were spit on.
Their belongings were destroyed.
They were physically and verbally abused by their peers,
by their teachers, and by the parents of their peers.
because they had an N-word lover for a mother.
-What steps can we take to fix this problem?
You've been doing it for 50 years.
-Educate yourself.
You didn't get educated in school.
You got indoctrinated in school.
Now use what you learned in school to educate yourself.
-If there's one thing that people can take
from what you're saying, what would you like it to be?
-[ Chuckles ] I'd like it to be there's only one race
on the face of the earth, the human race.
We are all members of the same race.
You and I are 30th to 50th cousins.
Whether you like it or not,
you are one of my 30th to 50th cousins,
because we have the same ancestor back there,
300,000 to 500,000 years ago, and they were black.
The only reason you have light skin
and the only reason I have lighter skin
is because those black people, those brilliant black people,
left the area of the equator and moved.
And as they moved farther and farther from the equator,
their bodies produced less and less melanin
so their skin, their hair, and their eyes got lighter.
They didn't become members of a different race.
They simply became people whose bodies reacted
to the natural environment.
-I cannot wait to see you in person.
Thank you so much again.
-Well, thank you for calling.
-Bye, Jane.
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Jane Elliott on Her "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise" and Fighting Racism

4 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on July 3, 2020
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