Jane Elliott is an educator who has contributed to the betterment of society by way of her heralded Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes exercise. In response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Jane used her Iowa classroom as the testing ground for her controversial experiment.
She proceeded to segregate her students in an attempt to replicate the conditions that minorities were subjected to during the 1960’s. Since her class was comprised entirely of white children, she decided to use eye color as the basis for her project.
For a set period of time, one group was given power and after this period was over, the roles would switch offering both sides the opportunity to see the powerful effects of racism.
Her experiment quickly showcased how labeling can impact the performance and self-esteem of developing young minds and has garnered tremendous praise from individuals like Oprah Winfrey and grammy award winning recording artist T.I .
With the current political climate, I felt now would be the perfect time to speak with Jane about the direction of the country and if we have truly moved on from classism and racism. While she is known for her fight against prejudice, I thought it would be interesting to get an understanding of how her faith aids her in this line of work. I was given the opportunity to conduct an interview with her via phone call and it was glorious.
Prox: So I’d like to start off by discussing what is now being called liberal racism (something that is seen as more covert and subtle.) What are your thoughts on this and the terminology used?
Jane: Liberal racism is an oxymoron, you can either be liberal or a racist, you can’t be both. True liberals are not racists and true racists would not call themselves liberals.
In this country today and now, we call this the time where we are in a post-racial society. That’s one of the biggest lies perpetrated on the human race, second only to the idea that there is more than one race. When you accuse a person of making a racist statement today, they fall back on their political correctness and they’ll say “well you just didn’t understand” or “you people always take it wrong, you’re always looking for racism and if you’d quit looking you wouldn’t find it.”
Those are all excuses for not changing the way we behave and as far as i’m concerned, there is no such thing as liberal racism. We all know what a racist is and if you graduated from a high school in the United States of America and you aren’t a racist, you’re a miracle because of the hidden curriculum. In fact it isn’t so hidden that the schools in this country are racist and it’s taught as being a good American.
I remember taking Social Studies education courses in college (and I was a waitress at The Last Supper so that was a long time ago) and our professor saying “when you go into the classroom do not teach in opposition to the local mores. The people who are paying your wages through their taxes have the right to have their children taught what they want them to learn.” So if you were going into a racist community (which practically every community in the United States is) you’d best not teach in opposition to racism. I felt it was wrong when he said it then, and I definitely think it’s wrong now.
I think we have to teach in opposition to racism in the public, private, and parochial schools in this country and i’m afraid that with our present Secretary of Education we are not going to be doing that and that is really scary. I think we are going to take drastic steps backwards as far as racism is concerned in this country. In the past four months, we have already taken drastic steps backwards.
Prox: In your opinion, what is contributing to the current backpedal that the country is experiencing?
Jane: I’m currently reading the book White Trash and we are now dealing with a situation in which a whole lot of people are making the same wages that they made in the 70’s and you can’t live on that. They’re getting angry and they’re looking for someone to blame. This is very similar to what happened in Germany pre-WWII. Nobody wants to hear that but if you look around at what’s happening today, it’s very similar to what happened then; And some people are looking for a figure who will lead them out of this ugliness so they have chosen an ugly figure.
Prox: You mentioned in a previous interview that during every one of your speeches someone always says that non-whites will treat whites the way they’ve treated minorities throughout history. Why do you think there is so much fear amongst white people when it comes to people of color having any sort of footing or power in our current society? Why do you think there is such a deep seated fear of this possibility?
Jane: We’re being encouraged to believe that because the demographics of this country say that within thirty years whites will become the numerical minority, and we’re scared to death. Every time I give a speech someone says “don’t you think people of color are going to want to treat us the way we’ve treated them?” So now when I talk to a group I say to them “will every person of color in this room (other than the white color group) who wants to get even with all white folks, please raise your hand.” Not a hand goes up, maybe there will be one or two people who raises their hand, but they do it very timidly. Then I say “will every person of color in this room who wants to get even with one or two white people, raise your hand.” Every hand goes up and everybody just laughs like “yeah now we’ve finally said it. There is somebody I wanna get.”
Well if white people don’t want to be that one or two all they have to do in the present is change their behavior to create a better future for themselves.
We create the future by the things we do in the present. White folks are scared to death of losing their power because their power is based on a chemical in the skin of people. You can’t base your power on hating melanin, it makes no sense. This is all the result of ignorance. White people really believe (and so do a whole lot of people of color) that the less melanin you have in your skin, the more intelligent you are. This makes no sense at all and it didn’t exist until about six-hundred years ago after the Spanish Inquisition when they couldn’t decide who was and who wasn’t Jewish so they had to find another way to decide who to kill. They based it on skin color. They created the myth of race at that time.
There is only one race on the face of the Earth and that’s the human race. We’re all members of the same race, every person on the face of the Earth is my thirtieth to fiftieth cousin. Now they may not want me as one of their cousins but we all belong to the family of man. Get over this idiocy, get over this ignorance. It’s education that could’ve taken us out of this mess, instead it increases because we teach that to be a good American is to believe in the myth of white superiority.
We teach that those Native Americans that were here when we got here were savages because they resisted when we killed them, raped them, and stole their land. It was resisting that made them savages. Yet we weren’t savage in what we were doing, we weren’t savages. We knew better than they did when it came to what to do with this land. That’s really one of the things people say to me, “they weren’t making good use of this land” and now I look around here in Iowa and I see all these corporate farms and the places where the wildlife used to live being destroyed to grow more corn so we can have more ethanol, so people can make more money off this soil. We’re destroying our land, we’re destroying our wildlife, and we will destroy ourselves if we keep this up.
Prox: Recently one of Trump’s sons stated that democrats are less than human and it got comparisons to tactics that Hitler used during WWII. Why do you think it’s still so easy for us to dehumanize other parties and races of people in spite of what we know now?
Jane: Wait a minute, let’s get real here. We shouldn't quote anything that Donald Trump, his sons, his daughter, any of his wives or his in-laws says. Those people do not behave the way normal American citizens do. That man didn’t get there because he had the skill to be the president of the United States, or the knowledge, or the personality, he got there because the electoral college didn’t do their job.
It’s easy to live down to other’s expectations of you. Everybody learned when Barack Obama was the President that his biggest sin was refusing to live down to white people’s expectations of him. They’ve done studies that prove that teachers are more upset by students who exceed the teacher’s expectations than they are by students who live down to those expectations.
It’s easy to believe the lie. If you’re white it’s easy to believe that you are superior because you are one of God’s chosen children. Now look, God didn’t make you white, that’s an accident of birth.
When you put some blue eyed people in the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes exercise and treat them for an hour or just ten minutes the way we treat black people from birth to death in this country, they go a little crazy. They get angry, they get absolutely defensive, they go into “I don't believe those things, I wouldn’t say anything like that.” Then they begin to see themselves the way other color groups see them, then all of a sudden it’s “oh my God. Those brown eyed people in a superior position are acting towards me how i’ve acted my whole entire life as a white person.”
It’s one of the most terrifying things that can happen to them and they can’t get over it. After they complete the exercise they can’t just forget it. Many of them have said to me after that exercise “I’ll never be the same again. I can’t listen to those racist jokes anymore. I can’t sing “I don’t want her, you can have her she’s too fat for me.” I can’t do those things anymore. It’s changed my brain and I don’t know what to do about it.” Well what they’d better do about it is change the brains of those around them so no one has to listen to this idiocy.
Prox: So how can people help out that may not have an understanding of the exercise like you do?
Jane: Every white person does the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes exercise at some point during the day only they base it on skin color. We all know how to do that exercise. You don’t have to be trained in that, we grow up around it day after day. People can change the behaviors of those around them if they choose to. I get this from so many so called liberal white men: “I’m colorblind, I don’t see color.” I’m reminded of a woman who said in response to that remark, “I think you have an eye problem. Let’s go make an appointment with the optometrist.” I say, “I knew you were colorblind when I saw the color of your hair, nobody who isn’t colorblind would wear their hair that color. If you were colorblind you wouldn’t wear that shirt with those pants.” And they don't claim colorblindness anymore. Then they’ll say, “some of my best friends are black.” You ever hear that one?
Prox: Yeah of course.
Jane: I say, “name five.” And they walk away. I love this one… “When I see you I don’t see you as black.” Do they see that person as male or female? As tall? Or short? Or thin or heavy? The only thing they don’t see is skin color? Why is it alright not to see skin color? Your skin is the largest organ on your body. Your skin. How can you not see it? We don’t want to see because we don’t know how to relate to people who are of a color other than white. So we pretend that that isn’t there. They love this one…“I just look at the person’s heart.” To which I say, “Can you people in the audience really see my heart? Because if you can, I want you to go down to your local hospital and volunteer to be their x-ray monitor because you can save them a bunch of money.”
Now we need to stop making these ridiculous statements, and thinking that we’re being liberal and kind, to a person of color to whom they say those things to is supposed to think, “Oh thank you massa.” And if they don’t say thank you, and if they look at them like, “How dumb are you?” “How long are you going to remain dumb?” Then white folks get offended. White folks expect people of color to be grateful for the fact that that white person doesn’t see their skin. Have you ever heard of anything quite so ridiculous in your life?
Prox: No. No I haven’t. I mean especially not when you put it that way.
Jane: My God it’s so ignorant! And I’m not calling these folks stupid, they’re not stupid. You can’t fix stupid. You can fix ignorance. You do it with education. And there are literally thousands of books out there to read to educate yourself. You can even rent them on Kindle, and listen to them while you’re in the automobile if you really want to be educated, if you really want to know what’s going on.
Prox: So what do we have to do from both sides for us to actually be able to reach some sort of unity and synergy as the human race?
Jane: We all have to stop believing in the nonsense we were taught K through grade whatever. We have to re-educate ourselves. We have to get the book The Myth of Race by Robert Wald Sussman and read it. We have to take pieces of it out, and put it on sweatshirts. We have to realize that when you refuse to learn anything about another person and just rely on stereotypes that you’ve relied on all your life that, that is ignorance. You need to get over it. The main obstacle concerning this country today is not white privilege, it is white ignorance. If you call white people privileged, they can say, “Well I didn’t ask for this privilege, its not my fault.” If you call them ignorant they get unhappy about it, and there’s a way to get over ignorance. Its called educating yourself. People of color have to stop believing what they have been taught by this society about the superiority of those who are different from themselves. And white people have to stop trying to teach that. Because we’re teaching a lie on a daily basis.
Prox: Okay, that was brilliant. So when I was listening to another interview you did, you talked briefly about faith that you had growing up-your religious faith-but I’m not 100% currently sure if you’re still subscribed to that faith. Could you talk about how your faith motivates you to do this type of work?
Jane: My father was a Irish Baptist, and my mother was Irish Catholic. We had a civil war in our house twenty-four-seven. We were a nuclear family because neither side could stand the other. My two grandmothers absolutely hated one another cause they were both good Christians. And good Christian Baptists have to hate good Christian Catholics evidentially. And vise versa. So we didn’t go to church. But we white folks have turned God into an old white man with a long grey beard who looks like Charlton Heston playing Moses. We control people with the way we show them things, and we show them that this (a white man) is what God looks like. And we also have created a blessed virgin who is born in the Middle East who has a pale face, blue eyes and blond hair and who has managed to produce a baby Jesus who looks just like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Now none of this is possible but it makes white folks feel good. The Bible says Jesus had feet of bronze and kinky wooly hair. Now if we would just make that one little difference it would say to the world, it’s alright not to be white. The first modern human beings on this Earth were not white and they weren’t male. They were black females. And they evolved about 280,000 years ago. We are all descendants of those black females. Black females, they produced asexually for many years and then, as a result of mutation of the genes, the first male was born. So I say to women, if you ever need a man remember you're talking to a mutant and don’t get upset.
Prox: So you wouldn’t say that you subscribe to any particular religious faith?
Jane: Well I was raised Christian. But I happen to believe that every religion has something in it that I can learn from. For instance, I took a course in Chinese philosophy. I believe in the rule by which we all should live our lives, “do onto others as you would have others do onto you.” The Golden Rule was founded in Chinese philosophy and it says, “Do onto others as others would have you do onto them.” Which changes the whole power play of that Golden Rule. We changed it to make it alright for us to decide how you want to be treated. I don’t have the right to treat others the way I want to be treated. I have to treat others the way that they want to be treated, and in order to find out how they want to be treated, I have to ask them. I have to listen to the answer, and then if it’s neither illegal or immoral, do it. But I don’t have the right to decide how others want to be treated. Furthermore, we who preach the Golden Rule do not practice it. If we were doing onto others as we would have others do onto us, we would not have run The Crusades for 300 years.
We would not be doing to Muslims in this country today, what number 44 1/2 wants us to do. We would refuse to do that, and we would refuse to build that wall to keep brown people out of here. We would refuse to allow somebody to take away Planned Parenthood in order to keep women broke, barefoot, and pregnant. We’d refuse to do these things. We do not practice the Golden Rule. We don’t treat others the way we want to be treated and we don’t treat others the way they want to be treated. We treat others the way we want to treat them and if they don’t like it we say “well it’s good enough for me, why isn’t it good enough for you?” When I ask a group of people, 600-800 at a time, “will every white person who wants to spend the rest of his or her life being treated the way we treat people of color (particularly black folks) in the country, please stand.” Nobody stands. That means they know what they're doing, they know it’s wrong, and they know they don’t want it for themselves. How can you call yourself a Christian when you are admitting that, that is true about what you do. Am I a little strange here?
Prox: No, no absolutely not! You live by a true moral code, not a bastardization of one. You just sound authentic.
Jane: One of the main differences (according to behaviorists) between members of the white color group and other color groups is, when white people come into a new environment they immediately adjust the environment to fit their needs. When people of other color groups come into a new environment, they adjust their needs to fit the environments. We do it with skin color and religion! We have managed to control people (particularly black folks) with religion in this country.
I’ll never forget the young black male that was in the group I was riding with during my trip back to the airport. He was sitting in the back seat and he said “I know I have to suffer” and I said “why do you have to suffer?” he says “well because it says so in the Bible.” and I say “where?!” then he says “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” and I immediately said “Wait a minute! That doesn’t mean you have to suffer. That means allow little children that suffer, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” “but doesn’t that mean I have to have pain?” “Absolutely not!” then he told me that minister’s name and I thought suffer that minister that come on to me. I was just furious. We use this thing where God made man in his own image, that doesn’t mean God made men to look like God or men made God to look like men. It means that God imagined a man. He also imagined a Kangaroo and a Duckbill Platypus and I don’t think I know a single person who would say my image of God looks like that.
We adjust the environment to fit our needs, we adjust the biblical works to fit our needs. We adjust every religion to fit the needs of those who believe in it. In the Muslim faith, to kill one person it is as bad as if you had killed the whole world. That’s not a bad thing to think.
Prox: No, Not at all.
Jane: See I think there are many, many things in the Islamic faith that say to me “I can go along with that!” My daughter was married to a Saudi Arabian and I went to visit with her father-in-law and for about five hours one day he told me all about how that religion works. He said that “The way women have to cover is not in the Quran, it’s because the bedouins that roamed the desert wanted to control their women and that was one of the ways they did it.” Both he and I started to laugh.
Prox: Wow, I actually didn't know that!
Jane: Yeah! If you sit down with a person of different faith and discuss… not challenge, one another, you can learn a lot. It was like I had read a bunch of interesting and important texts that I should have know about up until that moment. He was absolutely wonderful and just explained what his religion is about, not trying to proselytize… He wasn’t trying to turn me into a Muslim. He wanted me to understand, and I wanted to understand what this whole thing is about. I don’t care whether you call God Allah, or God, or Yahweh, as long as you realize that there is a force in the Universe, there is an energy that is there and you can plug into it. I call it hope and to me hope is an acronym for Holding On to Positive Energy.
You can’t create it, and you can’t destroy it. That’s how I feel about God.
Prox: Yeah it just is.
Jane: It just is. It was there before we got here, it’s here now, and it’ll be here after we’re gone. It’s dependable, absolutely dependable.
Prox: So are there any artists or intellectuals that you’d like to mention?
Jane: I think that George Soros, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates along with others who are using their money to help other people are fantastic human beings. I think that these immigrants (with the exception of Rupert Murdoch) who have come here and used their talents to live the American Dream are fantastic. There are a bunch of them, many of them are on the Forbes 400 list and many of them are immigrants. I think everyone should read the Forbes 400. Just look at what those folks have done. I think people like that who use their money to help everybody else to do things better, are fine. I am not pleased with Sam Walton’s offspring and what they are doing with their stores. I think they are not people who are doing a good job of using their money, but I think people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet do.
Prox: When you’re not doing your part to uplift the community, what are some hobbies you like to participate in?
Jane: I don’t have what people call hobbies. I read a lot, I learn a lot. I’m learning however I can, whenever I can. I educate people however I can and that’s what I do. That’s what I do for joy, that’s what I do for fulfillment and that’s how I make the place i’m living in better than it was when I got here. I honestly think that the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Exercise and what people have learned by going through it and talking about it have changed the way people see their world and I know going through the exercise creates a brain change. There is proof that it does because some of those children who went through it are in the movie The Eye of the Storm.
Everybody should see The Eye of the Storm and realize that while you’re feeling sorry for the poor little ol’ white children that go through that exercise for a day is nothing compared to what children of color go through over the course of their lifetime in this country on a daily basis, pre-birth to after death. I have talked to and addressed midwives that are in that business because women of color don’t get the same treatment in the delivery room that white women do so they do this so it’s fair for them too.
Prox: See I didn’t know that either. I guess it would be obvious when you think about it, but delivery room racism was never something that crossed my mind.
Jane: There was a Hispanic woman in one of the southern states and when her child was delivered the doctors told her “your child is never going to walk or talk so just leave it with us and we’ll take care of it.” She told them that she was taking that child home and that she was going to raise that child. She checked that child out and now it’s a walking, talking human being. She didn’t live down to the doctor’s decisions and evaluations. Do you see many children of color with gross abnormalities coming out of delivery rooms?
Prox: No, not really to be honest.
Jane: I wonder why.
Prox: You just blew my mind there.
Jane: They aren’t given the chance to survive. We never think about it because it’s perfectly obvious that many of the children that have gross abnormalities are white children.
If you’re a child of color with those same abnormalities the chances of you surviving the delivery room are not too good. Now maybe someone can do some research and prove me wrong about that, but if they can’t find them then children of color are indeed members of the superior color group aren’t they? We don’t want to look too closely at this because we might lose our feeling of superiority.
When you read the book White Trash, you’re going to be furious. If you aren’t i’ll be amazed. Then after you read that one read Robert Wall Sussman’s The Myth of Race, Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization by Anthony T. Browder, Ivan Van Sertima’s book They Came Before Columbus, The Choice by Sam Yette, and finally Beyond Racism. Those are fantastic pieces to educate yourself out of this mess. Before any of those though read The Myth of Race, everyone has to read that. Then because we have a Secretary of Education who is going to construct some really ugly stuff, everyone needs to read Nathan Rutstein’s Racial Conditioning of our Children: Ending Psychological Genocide in Schools. The subtitle for that one is “psychological genocide in our schools.” Everyone has to read that book. It will blow you away when you realize what is happening to children of color everyday in schools all over this country. Imagine how much worse it’s going to get if we only have charter schools, which is exactly what our new secretary of education wants.
Prox: Ok and could you give some advice to people who are looking to become an activist like you are? What are some things they should expect before going into this?
Jane: Well the first thing you better do is be prepared to lose all of your friends. That keeps most of them from dealing with the strain of this kind of endeavor. You’re going to have to say things to people that nobody wants to hear for instance, there is only one race or white people are not superior. So you have to find someone who will really love you and stand by you for as long as they live and then go for it.
I pray that the Great Spirit will give me the hindsight to remember where I’ve been, the foresight to see where I’m going, and the insight to know when I'm going too far. I also say the serenity prayer, give me the serenity to accept what I can not change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That’s hard because this society encourages people to act in racist, ignorant ways. If you want to get ahead, here is the way to get ahead, be a fool. Don’t be like Barack Obama and rise above what white people have called your station in life.
Put a sign up on your wall that says “I will not should on myself, today.” Stop doing what people say you should do, stop caring about what people think of you. Do what you know is right. My dad would say "a fair thing is a pretty thing and the right wrongs no man." Now it might inconvenience you, it might impoverish you for a while but it won’t wrong you. It is fair. We’re not fair in this country. To thirty percent of the population, we are not fair.
Prox: And what are some upcoming releases you have for us?
Jane: I don’t do much in the summertime because most of my work is with colleges and universities but I have a ton of things coming up in the winter and fall. I’m too old for this nonsense! I’m too old to be flying around and attempting to educate people who don’t want to be educated! And they’re whenever I leave town. I’m also tired of having my life threatened and people walking up to me and handing me their card that says they are a Ku Klux Klan member (i’ve had that happen several times) or having people walk up to the stage before the audience gets there and telling me “you’re not going to be doing this for too much longer.”
Prox: Oh man that’s terrible…
Jane: Oh yeah, they charge up and say “do you know what’s going to happen to you?” (it’s usually white males that do this and I walk up to them and face their belly button because they’re usually really tall) and I say do you really want to have a confrontation here? If you do you’re going to suffer greatly because I will not go quietly into that grave and you need to know that. Or when I see angry fraternity boys talking about me I always say “look, I know what you fellas are talking about and that you’d like to see me dead but listen to me now. If you kill me for what I do and i’m trying to decrease the level of racism in this country, you might make a martyr out of me and you’ll have to spend the rest of your lives celebrating Jane Elliott day. Now do you really want to do that?”
Prox: Could you give some final thoughts before we get out of here?
Jane: There is a book out there called The Four Agreements, and the four agreements are… Be impeccable with your word, make no assumption, always do your best, and take nothing personally. Now if we could just remember those four we can educate ourselves through that ignorance. We are not here to be ignorant, we are here to be educated and practically all of us have the capacity to learn… Except maybe number 44 1/2 I’m not too sure about him.
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