Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes. Teaching Kids About Discrimination

Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes. Teaching Kids About Discrimination
The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration is only a few short weeks away, and once again the United States, as a nation, will remember the many worthy causes Martin Luther King, Jr. championed. Similarly, this day is a testament to the single-minded conviction shared by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, who refused to let her husband’s dream die the quiet death of obscurity, and who instead worked hard to have his memory forever honored on the anniversary of his birth in January.

Yet what do we, who live in a better world because of the blood, sweat, and tears of those civil heroes who went before us do with their accomplishments? Do we remember them in passing on their appointed days? Do we honor them with our lives by upholding the values we embrace as true in everyday decisions and actions? Or do we sanctimoniously teach them to our children only then to refer to others as “crackers,” “spear chuckers,” “wetbacks” or worse? How are we teaching the next generation about civil rights?

Jane Elliott’s "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise is a good example. When she ran this experiment with her class, she divided them into two groups – those with brown eyes and those with blue eyes. Alternately, she made one group superior and the other inferior, and then switched. Predictably, the inferior group turned in inferior work, thus proving the point that if a group of people is maliciously held back and made to feel like there are worth less than another group, eventually the allegedly inferior group will act the part of actually becoming inferior. This social conditioning has been going on in our country, and all over the world, since time immemorial, yet it is time to stop this process by passing on to the next generation the strength of our conviction, not just lip-service to them.

However, one must not move to Jane Elliott’s drastic teaching example to prepare the next generation to either continue to perpetuate the prevalent racism in our society, or to stand up against it. Here are some questions to ask ourselves, as a parent, caregiver, or anyone who comes in contact with children:

  1. Do I refer to others (rarely, sometimes, often) in racially, religiously, or gender-specific terms? (i.e. “the Jews,” “the white people,” “black people,” …)
  2. Do I lump groups of people together as a whole and speak of “them” versus “us”?
  3. Do I question someone’s competence because they are different from me in race, religion, or gender?
  4. Does my speech pattern change because I speak to someone of a different race, religion, or gender? (Hint: if I have to make a conscious effort to avoid certain words or phrases, this is a definite “yes.”)
  5. Do I buy into the emotional race-related rhetoric of either the fringe right or the fringe left and view it as gospel truth?
  6. Do I feel put down, inferior, and discriminated against because I belong to a certain race, religion, or gender? (Not based on an actual, tangible, prove-able offense against me personally.)

If we answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, it appears that instead of propagating a color-blind, equity seeking society that seeks to unify its citizens rather than tear them apart at race lines, religious beliefs, or gender structures, we may be choosing to hold on to stereotyping and are thus propagating that which many a great civil rights leader, first and foremost Martin Luther King, Jr., has spoken out against. By doing so, we are setting up the next generation for failure as well.

Dr. King dreamt of a time his children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by their own individual character. Furthermore, he spoke of a time when little black boys and girls would join hands with little white boys and girls. (1) Are we, as a society, upholding this dream, or are we twisting it to fit our own little agendas? Are we diluting the truths Dr. King spoke of? Are we claiming them to be impossible, improbably, or immoral? Have we given up the good fight against racial, religious, and gender stereotyping, only to discriminate against each other from the lofty heights of political correctness? What have we done?

”I Have A Dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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