Why Does Pigment Dominate Pride in Our Shared Humanity?

Greetings, It's Phil Zimbardo, President of

the San Francisco-based Heroic Imagination Project.

I want to share with you my reflections on the recent murder of George

Floyd, and the international protests it has generated,

that I have put into the broader historical context of “Pigment Power”

Why does it matter what the color of our skin is?

Why does it matter what the color of our eyes are?

Why does it matter what the color of our hair is?

These are each external characteristics that vary widely among people

from different nations.

Should any of them matter more than our intelligence, our morality,

our compassion, or our wonder and delight at our common human


This question obviously contrasts the core of our Inner Being with

physical elements of our external being, that are used too often, and

wrongly, as social constructions of our self-worth.

Our list could readily be expanded to include what differences

does our height or weight matter, or size of our nose really matter?

All of these facial and bodily characteristics mattered very much to the

Nazi Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, in his vision of Germany as the perfect Aryan

nation, filled with blue-eyed blondes with petite noses! Those external

features were characteristic of Nazis as the superior race who had the

right to dominate and destroy everyone in every nation that was

inferior to those in his Third Reich. Nazi propaganda visualized these

mythical perfect Hitler youth as contrasted with dark skin, big-nosed

Jews—as the enemy—to be destroyed.

April 4, 1968: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered by a white

gunman in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots of protest rock America.

Chicago’s Mayor Daly orders police to “shoot to kill.”

April 5, 1968: Mrs. Jane Elliott, a 3rd grade elementary school teacher

in the farming town of Riceville, Iowa, population of about 850, all

white, all Christian, is preparing her class exercise on Brotherhood. She

plans to focus on the plight of Native Americans. But changes her mind

and her lesson as she reflects on the significance of Rev. King’s murder.

She wonders how she could teach her beloved 28 students to

experience personally the power of arbitrary discrimination. Mrs. Elliott

choose “eye color” as her demonic device.

She informs the class that she has just learned that brown-eyed people

are inferior to blue-eyed people and gives a number of examples to

validate that distinction. Then she adds action consequences, such as

brown-eyed children have to wear collars, to be put on by their

classmates with blue eyes, so they will be more distinguishable. They

are forced to sit at desks in the back of the class, and they must also not

go to lunch until the blue-eyed, superior children have finished.

Amazingly, these children who had grown up knowing each other very

well from earlier classes and family contacts, immediately began to be

hostile toward their now “inferior” buddies and playmates. They

abused them with derogatory accusations and in physical

confrontations. “It was the worst day in my life”, a crying Brown Eye girl


But it got better for her the next day when Mrs. Elliott explained that

she had made a mistake; that it was blue eyes who were inferior and

brown eyes who were superior.

Did the suffering of the brown eyes on the previous day create a

tolerance for their blue-eyed buddies? NOT AT ALL!

Arbitrary discrimination reared its ugliness as they immediately gave

what they had gotten—angry abuse at classmates who now were

clearly inferior and deserved to be punished for having the wrong eye


Mrs. Elliott’s brilliant demonstration of the ease and rapidity of

arbitrary discrimination inflicting all in its sphere of influence –

like our current Covid-19 Pandemic is inflicting millions globally with its

deadly new virus— is even more significant now in 2020 than it was nearly 40 years ago.

Please view the powerful documentary of this class exercise in

prejudice, A Class Divided, on PBS.Org, a Frontline drama.

Immediately after I became aware of her powerful social psychological

experiment, I invited Jane to share her brilliant insights with my

Stanford University students and faculty.

Jane Elliott has gone on in her new career as “Discrimination Awareness

Warden” with adults from various backgrounds and careers. She

demonstrates the ease and rapidity with which discrimination

dominates common sense based on any random arbitrary physical

characteristic, such as if you can curl your tongue or not. Those who

can are the Superior Class, those who can’t obviously belong to the

Inferior Class.

To see more about this now 87 year- old dynamo in action view her via

these following links within the post below.

(note her sweatshirt proclaiming: “GOD CREATED ONE RACE, THE HUMAN RACE”)

Thanks for your caring concern now and forevermore in our uncertain future.



Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes Experiment Britain By Jane Elliott:

Jimmy Fallon / Jane Elliott:

Jane Elliott's Life Mission:


95 views0 comments