Jane Elliot – The Blue Eyes – Brown Eyes Exercise

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In the wake of the recent tragedies that have consumed our nation and our headlines, the media has done an excellent job of painting a polarized and tension filled picture that has mainly served to widen the already gaping rift that exists between certain factions of the American polity. By spotlighting divisive rhetoric and those that propagate it in the mainstream, the media has not only contributed to the birth of several counter movements further exacerbating social conflict, enabling ignorance, and effectively vilifying certain groups of people while victimizing others, it has also successfully turned us all into political pawns. Pundits and politicians have been gifted a brand new pop culture platform which pander to the public and label us as being “anti” something by virtue of being “pro” something else. The use of “divide and conquer” techniques as a means of social manipulation is nothing new as social inequality and conflict have very deep historical and cultural roots. Consequently, countless unsung heroes who have fought for the voiceless against oppressive power structures have risen out of the ashes of our sordid and violent social history. One such individual, who has recently been gaining traction on social media, is Ms. Jane Elliot.

Jane Elliot in the 1960s
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You may have seen the videos of her “Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise” on YouTube or on your Facebook newsfeed. For nearly 5 decades, since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ms. Elliot has tirelessly labored to eradicate the effects of racism by utilizing reflective exercises such as the “Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise” to challenge and ideally, modify the perception many members of the white community have about race and white privilege. After having spent time living in predominantly white communities as well as predominantly black communities and teaching grade school students during the civil rights era, Ms. Elliot has witnessed, first-hand, the origins and the destructive consequences of racial prejudice in American society.

Watch this interview of Jane Elliot discussing race. This video has recently gone viral on FaceBook:

In an interview with Rock Newman, she emphasized the instrumental role the American education system plays in purporting notions of white supremacy thus fueling the collective fear and ignorance that characterize American racism. By highlighting the exploitation of our indoctrination into American society as children by the elite for political and/or economic gain, and engaging willing participants in reflective exercises such as her “Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise”, Jane Elliot has effectively introduced people to their own biases as well as the societal constructs that reinforce them. It is unfortunate that after her many years of generating awareness around the systemic oppression of certain groups and advocating for change, her efforts are just as critical and necessary today as they were 48 years ago. Jane Elliot’s skills as an educator in combination with her tenacity and passion for change make her one of the most formidable and influential activists of our time.

Watch as Jane Elliot addresses societal issues plaguing our society:

https://youtu.be/-pv8mCHbOrs

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About Author

Vivian Escrogima graduated from Syracuse University in 2007 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and has been working in the research and health care fields ever since. Her career began at the New York State Psychiatric Institute’s HIV Center where she worked as a bilingual Research Assistant. For one year, Vivian recruited, screened and collected data for a longitudinal research study that focused on the development of children and adolescents with perinatal exposure to HIV. Although she still possesses a strong interest in learning more about HIV as one of New York City’s most prevalent public health issues, Vivian sought to learn more about health care and social service programs designed to address these important issues. She began working at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine as a Research Assistant in the Department of Psychiatry. As part of Dr. Mary Mckay’s research team, she assisted on several public health- and social work-based grants during the course of about three and a half years. Her time spent as a Research Assistant taught Vivian that, despite her affinity for learning through research methodology in praxis, she craved a more hands-on experience where she would have the opportunity to help find solutions for the problems participants reported. She subsequently joined the Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health in 2011 as a Scheduling Coordinator and immediately demonstrated a passion and dedication for working with laborers, especially immigrant laborers. Having been born to immigrant, working-class parents herself, Vivian treats each worker with respect and compassion. The quality of her work and interpersonal skills resulted in a promotion to Outreach and Education Coordinator in 2012. She has, since then, initiated and facilitated efforts to provide non-English speaking Responders with additional registration assistance by founding and leading a workgroup solely focused on addressing the recruitment and enrollment issues unique to this population. Now, as part of the Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health, Vivian has been committed to conducting outreach to the communities that need them most.

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