On Thursday April 20, well-known “Blue Eye, Brown Eye” exercise creator Jane Elliott came to campus to dine with student leaders and speak to the campus about her lecture entitled “Power, Perception, and Prejudice.”
Kicking the event off with a dinner catered towards student leaders of diverse organizations on campus, Black Student Union, Society on Latino Affairs, African Student Association, All Greek Council, NAACP, Senate, and Hillel, all enjoyed her presence. Starting with the acronym BITCH, she stated that for the night, she was Being In Total Control (Honey). Other quite quotable lines were in regards to racism, diversity, and how “doing something outside your comfort zone” was crucial in order to keep growing as a person and confronting one’s own biases.
Shortly after the conclusion of the banquet, everyone migrated to the Clair Performance Hall in the VPAC to hear her espouse her views and critique the world.
She started her lecture with a story about a third grade teacher, herself so many years ago. She told of the day after Martin Luther King was murdered. She walked into class and tried to explain the travesty to her students, but she couldn’t quite get it through. To get around this block, she devised an exercise to show her students what it was like to be vulnerable, oppressed, and discriminated against. Thus, the “Blue Eye, Brown Eye” exercise was born.
Knowing that she was going to be contentious and controversial, she followed with “I’m going to offend everyone of you in the first five minutes.”
Among the first of her rants was that of Donald Trump, or “Dinosaur T. Rump” as she rather satirically calls him. “[We] elect[ed] a damn fool to the presidency…we all messed up. [Now, we’re] living with the backlash of having a black man as president…It’s all about racism.”
Indeed, racism was central to her lecture. Pointing out how American history has been whitewashed, she tried to educate us on how President Barack Obama was not the nation’s first “black” or non-white president. “Abe Lincoln was black, white, and Cherokee.” She also pointed out that Bill Clinton and Dwight Eisenhower have black heritage.
It was at this time that she started to publicize books that she felt were critical to become better educated and understanding the biases of American society. Those listed were:
- Frank Schaeffer: “Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)”
- Jeff Sharlet: “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” and “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy”
- Nathan Rutstein: “Racial Conditioning of our Children: Ending Psychological Genocide in Schools”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “The Song of Hiawatha”
- Gerald Posner: “Mengele: The Complete Story”
- Anthony T. Browder: “Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization”
- Ivan Van Sertima: “They Came Before Columbus”
- Michelle Alexander: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”
- Ben J. Wattenberg: “The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies?”
- Jane Elliott: “The Eye of the Storm” and “A Class Divided”
Encouraging many of the students in the audience to teach those around them, she stated how “an educator is someone who leads other people out of ignorance.” Further, she championed cultural acceptance with the quip, “Do unto other as others would have you do unto them.”
Other memorable quotes include, but are not limited to: “White superiority is a lie;” “Behave in a way that doesn’t make Blacks think that you are oppressing them;” “There is only one race [the human race];” and “I didn’t know I was racist until the day after Martin Luther King died.”
Numerous times she was cut off in her lecture and stories by thunderous applause. Witty, sharp, and caustic, she can be known by her saying, “If you don’t like me, you’ll find my sympathy between shy and syphilis and that’s all you’ll get from me.”
Afterwards when asked about the success of the event, student coordinator Aaron Jaffe stated that it was, “very successful. A lot of important messages [were] sent to not just students, but faculty and community…[It’s] important to meet these people. [You] need to get an understanding of the people you follow.” He continued by explaining that the event had been sold out, regardless of the 250 tickets estimated by the Ticket Office.
Though filled with controversy, titters of nervous laughter, and multiple comments that would have made psychology and biology students raise their eyebrows, the night was a resounding success.