Blue Eyed – A Society Divided

📝 From my Depository Archive (originally from my website Hate Hurts 2002).

Between the years 1998 to 2002 I had a website called “Jonathan’s website on Racism/HateHurts.” It was in the infancy of Internet long before blogs and Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. But my intentions back then was to be a resource for schools and other interested in topics concerning discrimination, racism, bullying and anti-homosexuality among others.

“Discrimination is taught, there is no genetic code for discrimination, people are not born racists”
– Jane Elliott

– “My intention is to give these nice, blue eyed humans an opportunity to feel how it is to be a non white in the United States. They will learn more than they actually want to know. For one day they will get an opportunity to feel what it is like to be colored. Just because of their eye color, I am going to attribute them all the negative qualities we ascribe to females, gays and lesbians, blacks, people with all kinds of handicaps and everyone who is blatantly physically different.”

So begins the workshops and lectures of Jane Elliott. A German film team followed her during a workshop in Kansas City, where the participants were 40 blacks, Latinos, whites, men and women working within the police, schools, and other authorities. During the morning, the participants learn to understand and see the causal relations why we look up to certain people and why we are looking down on others. It is the thoughts and ideas that are not only relevant in the United States but also in a frightening way has raised up in Europe. Attacks are common on policemen, journalists and others who are publicly fighting against racism and xenophobia! There are evil forces against good forces.

See an excerpt from “Blue Eyed” (Denkmal Film, 1996)

Interview with Jane Elliott after her Brown Eye Blue Eye exercise performed at Boise State


Jane Elliott got the idea for these experiments when she once read what the Nazis did during World War II and the Holocaust. Hitler wanted to create an “Aryan” nation of blue-eyed, blonde, light-skinned people who would control the rest of the world. One of the criteria for which one would be gassed to death were the eye color!
The day after Martin Luther King was murdered in 1968, Jane Elliott decided to do the same as Hitler did.
– “If he could, so can I”, she says in the documentary.
In her third degree class of students, she chosed a particular group after a physical characteristics they couldn’t affect; their eye color. She didn’t know if it had happened, but she had heard about it, she read the books “Mengele” and “The Nazi doctors” and saw that it really had happened. In the books, we were told, the experiments were made without anesthesia, where they tried to change people of all ages from brown eyed to blue eyed! Experiments were made on twin children among others.

By then, a gifted, talented brown eyed Jew could have blue eyes and in this way become a member of the superior Aryan race. And this happened in a country that has given us some of the foremost philosophers, composers and thinkers the world has ever seen. Mengele’s terrible acts show us that if one has sufficient intelligence and power to kill people who have great intelligence but without power, we can do it due to a physical characteristic or a religion that we dislike.
Jane Elliott warns us that it could happen again unless well-meaning people reading these historic documents and learn from history.

Mengele was not a monster! He believed that he had done the world a favour and he had power to also do so. In the book, “The Nazi doctors,” by Robert Jay Lifton it tells us exactly how they got intelligent, well educated people on their side and the most frightening is that it was so easy to get the population on their side. Intimidation works!


At the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, Jane Elliott was a teacher in a third grade class in Riceville, Iowa; a white, Christian society. She felt that she had to explain King’s death for the children. She did not know how it would go. She says in the documentary:
– “The only way I found was to let the children be colored only for a day.”
The first time she did this exercise, no one knew about it, neither students, fellow teachers or parents. Not until the pupils’ school papers on the experiments was highlighted in the local news.
She was invited to “Johnny Carson Show” and other shows when her experiment had become known, that led to a series of unpleasant things, says Elliott.

– “We got scary nightly phone calls and 500-600 letters, of which one third was so awful that I could not allow my students to see them,” continues Elliott. When parents would enter their children in the school, several parents did not want their children in mrs. Elliott’s class. The pattern repeated the following year, when some parents phoned the school and said they didn’t want their children to go in “the nigger lover’s class.”
Elliott’s own children were beaten and bullied by classmates, teachers and coworkers’ parents. Her parents ran a boarding house in town, but they lost their business when customers stopped coming.


In the TV documentary “Blue eyed,” we follow an exercise held during a Saturday morning. It is a “workshop” where Elliott was invited to teach a group of teachers, police officers and social workers. To illustrate the differences in society, they are divided into blue-eyes and brown-eyes. The blue-eyed are told to put on a collar. During the few hours the workshop and experiment was going on, the “blue-eyed” got to know more about the life of the black people and how they experience their lives.
While her exercise continues in the documentary, we follow the blue-eyed group’s facial expressions. We soon see that all participants of the day are significantly affected to be treated in such a derogatory way. Jane Elliott leads her experiment with an iron hand, and note that these are grown up people, having this exercice for just a few hours a Saturday. They were there voluntarily! Now we follow Jane Elliott and the “brown eyes” who have dictated the terms for the “blue-eyes”, conditions under which they have to submit to. Soon the experiments become serious for some “blue-eyed”. An obstinate young man, who starts to doubt himself and take everything bloody serious, Elliott constantly explain that what is happening in this room this afternoon is a daily occurence for black people in society! The man has a nervous breakdown and begins to cry, but he wont expect any sympathy from the others. He will become a horrible but useful experience richer that day.

Jane Elliott believes that those in power know what will keep people in place by lowering the requirements on them and then get them down to where they want to. That is what you do when president Reagan signed a decree which established Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday. While he signed the decree, a reporter asked him:
– “Was Mr. King a Communist?” The President replied:
– “Well, we will know in 30 years”. What did the President want to say with that?
– “He held up the rose with one hand, but with the other, he took it back! It was as if the President with this gesture wanted to say that ‘we are giving you this holiday, but we really don’t want to’. And this was on TV! Everyone saw it! Was this a message to the black population? Yes, very much indeed! Was it a message to the white population? Yes! What message was that, you may wonder”, Elliott continues.
– “It will surely hold them in check!” Implicitly, we understand that it served to dampen the excitement surrounding the murder, and not to honor Martin Luther King!


– “Well, we simply learn black people, women and gays to keep their mouths shut! That will teach them to go along to get along,” Elliott says.
The message to the inferior is that if it becomes to uncomfortable, so give up, keep quiet! But Jane Elliott understands from personal experience that it is not a good thing. She could not blame the peoples’ attitude when she was coming, but she admits that if she had been able to stop the exercises in the school, she would have missed many important lessons. To stop would have been to give up and abide; today she continues the unceasing struggle against attitudes that distinguish certain people from other. She believes that for most of the participants in these workshops it is a new experience. Just the need to be submissive, to stick to the Group and keep quiet!

The objective of the exercises she arranges, is to teach what it is like to be discriminated against, about society and its rules, about how it is to have control over your life, when you feel a lack of all possibilities, about the use of force and abuse of power, and about a reality most of us have never before experienced.


Jane Elliott’s way of approaching this problem, is especially important today. It shows that even without racism involved in a legal sense, hate-filled remarks, low expectations of others and ostracism is devastating to a person’s self-esteem. The black participants in the documentary “Blue Eyed” reminds us that they undergo an incredible hardship and stress, not just for a few hours, but every day of their lives. Jane Elliott argues that sexism, anti-homosexuality, and age discrimination act in the same way.

Jane Elliott began her exercises in schools in the late 60’s and she still believes that teachers must learn more about racism and teach themselves, because they have been taught the wrong view on the black population. Here she talks about the conditions in the United States, but they are not so different to the rest of the Western world. When you talk to a black man, you never ask what it is like to be black.

Remarks like –“when I see you, I don’t think of you as having colored skin,” that also shows a great ignorance. These expressions are being made all the time;
– “I didn’t know that you’re gay, it doesn’t appear that you are gay!” Teachers need to educate themselves before they can train the students. We do not learn about racism in our universities today.


How often are we not flooded by stereotypical opinions on different people’s race, skin colour, hair colour, gender, sexual orientation or social situation. How often we do see Dazzling white Colgate smiles in TV-ads. Or take a look on advertising on detergents, hamburgers or shampoos. How often do we see black people, Indians or Thais in the advertising? What we see is for the most part smiling blonde housewives, well-dressed men in the middle of their career, happy children and young people chewing gum approved by dentists. You will certainly find several examples in TV-series, movies, television presenters and so on and so on. You will see that people act in the most offensive way to suppress other people who are seen as different.


I wrote this article on my website “Hate Hurts” in 2002 but it is still a very important message. This was a little about the work that Jane Elliott conducted during more than 40 years and still does. Do you want to read more about Jane Elliott and her work, there are several websites who write about the documentaries but also articles from her workshops and lectures. Here are a few links. A search on the Internet can provide you with more tips. I do not know, unfortunately, if there are any books on the subject. You are welcome with tips on books if you know more in this topic.


• Eye Of The Storm (ABC News, 1970)
• A Class Divided (1984)
• Blue Eyed (Bertram Verhaag from the German Denkmal Filmproductions,1996)
• Essential Blue Eyed (1996)

Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise
Denkmal Film
Diversity Works – seminars and education (website in German language only)
The Nazi Doctors
Mengele’s Children: The Twins of Auschwitz

© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
אתר הבית של יונתן
Twitter @tzedaqyal


About Meadow of Tzedaqyal

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955)
This entry was posted in activity, depository, discrimination, rights, science. Bookmark the permalink.

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