On April 4th, 1968 embarked the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, upon his death Jane Elliot conducted an experiment, which explored racial views within children. Elliot, a third-grade teacher, asked her students how they think it feels to be a black boy or girl. She explained to them that it’s difficult for someone to understand discrimination without experiencing it themselves. When the class agreed to find out more, she decided to conduct the experiment via eye color rather than skin color to show the children what racial segregation would be like.
Jane Elliot labelled the blue-eyed children as the superior group making the brown-eyed children the minority group. She even gave the blue-eyed children a brown cloth to tie around the brown-eyed students so they could be easily identified. The experiment allowed the blue-eyed student’s extra privileges such a long recess, second helping at lunch, access to the new jungle gym. The blue-eyed children sat at the front of the class, they had their own water fountain they were encouraged to ignore the brown-eyed children, in effect the blue-eyed pupils become arrogant, bossy and otherwise unpleasant to their inferior classmates. This also showed on their grades, their test results were better they completed English and mathematical tests whereas the ‘inferior’ brown-eyed pupils changed and became timid and passive scoring poorly on tests and during recess they even isolated themselves showing an impact on their individual academic performance. However the following day Elliot did a role reversal making the brown-eyed pupils superior and the blue eye students inferior.
The results were very similar, the brown-eyed children taunted the blue-eyed children; the next day Jane Elliott told the blue-eyed children to take off their collars and reflect the event that took place during the past two days and what they had learned.
However Jane Elliot didn’t anticipate how much publicity she would get, what the children wrote about their experience was printed in the Riceville recorder, after a TV talk show appearance she received hundreds of very negative and biased calls. Such as “how dare you to try this cruel experiment out on white children? Black children grow up accustomed to such behavior, but white children, there’s no way they could possibly understand it. It’s cruel to white children and will cause them great psychological damage.” (Bloom, Stephen G (September 2005). “Lesson of a Lifetime.” Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved April 17, 2017.) To which she replied with “Why are we so worried about the fragile egos of white children who experience a couple of hours of made-up racism one day when blacks experience real racism every day of their lives?” (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/lesson-of-a-lifetime-72754306/ retrieved on April 17, 2017.) Which couldn’t be more accurate, the people of Iowa were so fixated on what she had done rather than why she had done it, the essences of this experiment were so crucial, and there response and outrage reflected there evasive racial idealistic thoughts.
The experiment caused so much hate it chased Elliot and her family out of her hometown, Riceville, Iowa her daughters even received hateful and derogatory messages such as N- lover. After 12 years she returned with a reporter to visit the school but was denied access but during her visit she ran into Malinda Whisenhunt (45 years old) a third grade pupil who conducted the famous brown and blue-eyed experiment, after an emotional greet Whisenhunt explained that the experiment changed her life, ‘not a day goes by without me thinking about it,’ (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/lesson-of-a-lifetime-72754306/ retrieved on April 17, 2017.) she asked Ms Elliot to conduct the same experiment on her grandchildren. The experiment for some was seen as an outrageous experiment to do on white children for others it was a psychological problem, to do such an exercise on third-grade pupils. Her attitude and reasoning and her bravery that followed were astounding, to say the least.
It’s the little things that make a significant difference in the world she didn’t stop racism, but she made 870 people of Riceville, Iowa think twice.
“As long as we have an unjust society like we do now, we will never have a loving society. If you don’t treat people justly, how can you expect them to love you?”