Updated: Apr 9, 2021
Jane Elliott is a famous American diversity educator and a giant in the world of education. As a schoolteacher, she became known for her Blue eyes/Brown eyes exercise, first conducted for her class on April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. When the local newspaper published compositions students wrote about the experience, the reactions gay way to her career as a public speaker against discrimination. A PBS Documentary explains her method.
She also says: “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it because they're afraid they'll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That's what it's all about.”
This is a difficult but important lesson everyone has to learn. Racist attitudes and actions can be so subtle that they often go undetected and unchallenged. What a mother says and feels, subtly or explicitly, are passed down to the baby inside her. If she’s happy or sad, it goes right through to the baby’s growing consciousness. When the baby is born, any feelings of prejudice are observed as they grow. And of course, they can’t discern for themselves the validity or malice of what they see. And so the preconceived cycle continues. Children are victims to our beliefs and prejudices. We have to strive to be informed, compassionate members of the human race in order to evolve. This revolution can start in infancy.
Parents have to be careful and intentional when we are raising young minds and hearts. They are a blank slate looking to us for direction and truth. Later, they will go out in the world and repeat what you say and do. They will carry themselves and behave as you have modelled for them. Parents are the first teachers, so it’s important we do our own intellectual prep - analyze, question, read, study, experience, listen - to make sure what we’re passing to our children, knowingly or not, is well-informed. If we live with openness, compassion, a thirst for continuous education, our children will inherit and benefit from this attitude. Best of all, it gives them the highly coveted gift a greater chance of being happy, and helping others be happy.