The O.G. Files: Jane Elliot

Welcome the Evolving Man Project’s first-ever edition of the O. G. profiles. The O.G. profiles will highlight women from diverse backgrounds, and how they embody the values of what it means to be an evolved person. While uplifting their contributions to making a fairer and more just society. Today we will profile Jane Elliot. Jane Elliott is an internationally known teacher, lecturer, diversity trainer, author, and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education. She was born in Iowa in 1933. Elliott was married to Darald Elliott (1934–2013) from 1955 until his death and has four children. They maintained residences in Osage, Iowa, and Sun City, California. On May 24, 2019, Jane Elliott was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters by CSU Bakersfield.

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., like many empathetic people, his death profoundly impacted a young Jane. During the sixties, she worked as a school teacher in an all-white community. She was appalled to find many of her white colleagues rejoiced in the murder of one of humankind’s greatest champions of racial, social, and economic justice.

Her rise to prominence came when she devised a simple but profound social experiment that proved how arbitrary dividing humans up by certain features that were beyond one’s control could be done. And how we create hierarchal castes systems based off said features. She created The Blue Eyes & Brown Eyes Exercise. Wikipedia outlines the details vividly of the first time she conducted the controversial and thought-provoking exercise while she was an acting school teacher:

On the first day of the exercise, she designated the brown-eyed children as the superior group. Elliott provided blue fabric collars and asked the brown-eyed students to wrap them around the necks of their blue-eyed peers as a method to easily identify the minority group. She gave the brown-eyed children extra privileges, such as second helpings at lunch, access to the new jungle gym, and five extra minutes at recess. The brown-eyed children sat in the front of the classroom, and the blue-eyed children were sent to sit in the back rows. The brown-eyed children were encouraged to play only with other brown-eyed children and ignore those with blue eyes. Elliott would not allow brown-eyed and blue-eyed children to drink from the same water fountain and often chastised the blue-eyed students when they did not follow the exercise’s rules or made mistakes. She often exemplified the differences between the two groups by singling out students and would use negative aspects of blue-eyed children to emphasize a point.

At first, there was resistance among the minority group students to the idea that brown-eyed children were better than blue-eyed children. To counter this, Elliott lied to the children by stating that melanin was linked to their higher intelligence and learning ability. Shortly thereafter, this initial resistance fell away. Those who were deemed “superior” became arrogant, bossy, and otherwise unpleasant to their “inferior” classmates. Their grades on simple tests were better. They completed mathematical and reading tasks that had seemed outside their ability before. The “inferior” classmates also transformed – into timid and subservient children who scored more poorly on tests. Even during recess, they isolated themselves, including those who had previously been dominant in the class. These children’s academic performance suffered, even with tasks that had been simple before.

The next Monday, Elliott reversed the exercise, making the blue-eyed children superior. While the blue-eyed children did taunt the brown-eyed children in ways similar to what had occurred the previous day, Elliott reports it was much less intense. At 2:30 on that Wednesday, Elliott told the brown-eyed children to take off their collars. To reflect on the experience, she asked the children to write down what they had learned.

Decades later, Jane Elliot still conducts the blue-eyed and brown eyes exercises. Age has not slowed down Jane Elliot’s passion for justice and her fight to achieve her ultimate goal: humanity realizing what it truly is, which is that it’s one race, the human race. Jane has plenty of science to back up her claim. But as I learned in all my sociology courses, “race is a scientific fallacy and social reality.” People made up the idea of ‘Race’ to divide people along skin color lines, despite all human beings sharing a common ancestor who originated on the African continent. So, scientifically speaking, every human on Earth is an African. Sorry, Trump supporters and Candace Owens!

Jane Elliot’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Smithsonian Magazine, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Time, and The Guardian, to name a few. She’s been the feature of several documentaries. She has been seen in countless online and televised interviews, including Jimmy Fallon, Ellen Degeneres, The Rock Newman Show, Oprah, Red Table Talk w/ Jada Pickett, and countless others over the years. Jane Elliot has dedicated her life to being a true ally to black, indigenous, and people of color. That includes those people that identify as white. Because as Jane says, “white is a color too.” She is also an advocate for gender equality and LGBTQ rights. A big shout out to Jane Elliot. And here she is in her own words dismantling the notice of race and racism.

Jane Elliott

Why do we hate? We hate because we’re taught to hate. We hate because we are ignorant – we are the product of ignorant people who have been taught an ignorant thing which is that there are four or five different races. There are not four or five different races there is only one race on the face of the earth and we are all members of that race; the human race. But we have separated people into races so some of us can see ourselves as superior to the others. We thought, it would work. I guess it hasn’t worked! That has been bad for everyone! It’s time to get over this business!

There is no gene for racism. There’s no gene for bigotry. You’re not born a bigot! You have to learn to be a bigot. Anything you learn, you can unlearn. It is time to unlearn bigotry! It is time to get over this thing. And we best get over it pretty soon.

I’m an educator and as my business as an educator it is, to lead people out of ignorance. The ignorance of thinking, that you’re better or worse than someone else, because of the amount of a pigment in your skin. Pigmentation in your skin has nothing to do with intelligence or with your worth as a human being. It is time to get over that!

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