40 Questions We’re Afraid to Ask – #25
If I were to put the question as “Are you a racist?” or “Are you prejudiced?”, the responses, I’m sure, would range from “You’re damn right I am, and mighty proud of it!” to “I don’t have a prejudiced or racist bone in my body”.
According to Dr. Jane Elliot, an American former schoolteacher, recognized most prominently as an anti-racism activist and educator, even making a statement such as “I’m not racist” or “I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body” is a sign of some level of prejudice, even if it’s subconscious.
Her mission for the past four-plus decades has been to educate people on the fact that we, as humans, are not naturally prejudiced or racist, but that these attitudes are ingrained into us through experience and societal pressure, and that every single one of us — whether or not we realize or want to admit it — is a product at some level of such. Racism and prejudice are taught, not inherited or inbred.
To prove this, Elliot conducted an experiment with her third grade students in 1968, shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dividing the class based on eye color. It was an extremely risky undertaking, but one she felt she had no choice but to carry through in order to teach her students a powerful lesson. The experiment has become a classic, and Dr. Elliott continues to conduct similar experiments and workshops in order to educate the public.
The question is not “am I prejudiced or racist”, but to what extent and toward whom are these prejudices aimed, if only subconsciously.
If you don’t think this could possibly apply to you, watch this excerpt from her original experiment with her school children and have your brown eyes or blue eyes or whatever color eyes opened wide!
If you’d like to watch the full-length version of this video, CLICK HERE.
Dr. Elliott’s approach has become even more confrontational and controversial over the years, but it has proven to be extremely effective in opening the eyes of those who have managed to make it through her grueling sessions. Most of us don’t want to admit that we have any sort of prejudice. I certainly don’t, but I know I do, and there are times I’m ashamed of myself, especially when I realize that my actions toward a person who is somehow different from myself may go overboard in my attempts to somehow “prove” that I’m NOT prejudice or racist in any way.
How do I act around others who are not just like myself ?
How do I talk about others who are
somehow “different from myself ?
People of other races. People who appear to have some kind of handicap or physical “oddity”. People of a different religion or spiritual belief. People with different political views. People with body piercings and tattoos. People who don’t speak my language. People who listen to a different kind of music than I do. People of a different sexual orientation. People of a different gender. People who are not at the same intellectual level as I. People from a different country or culture. People of a different socio-economic status. Fat people. Extremely skinny people. People who dress differently from the “accepted norm”. Homeless people. Old people. Young people. People with chronic illnesses. Mentally ill people. “Beautiful” people. “Ugly” people.
The very ideas of “beautiful” and “ugly”, “smart” or “stupid” require the concept of different or better/worse — something to which we seldom give any thought.
This is probably one of the toughest questions we could ever ask of ourselves, but one that is vitally important in the world in which we live, and one the answer to which is the only way we will ever begin to solve the problems of this world.
How prejudiced am I?
Oh . . . by the way . . . the Oxford Dictionary defines prejudice as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”.
Something to think about.