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
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: https://youtu.be/Nqv9k3jbtYU
Jimmy Fallon / Jane Elliott: https://youtu.be/f2z-ahJ4uws
Jane Elliott's Life Mission: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mcCLm_LwpE
A Class Divided: https://WWW.PBS.ORG/WGBH/FRONTLINE/FILM/CLASS-DIVIDED/