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JUNETEENTH: INTERNATIONAL REFLECTION WITH JANE ELLIOT
Juneteenth is upon us and it is a day for learning and reflection. The current climate of the United States is in a difficult place. Tensions are high, racial tensions are even higher. One positive thing to come out of this tension though, is listening. People are beginning to say less and listen more. Hopefully, with the act of listening then comes the next obvious byproduct, learning. So what better way to deepen your understanding of race relations on the day slaves were officially freed than by going to a teacher who has dedicated her whole life to fighting racial injustices, Jane Elliot.
Elliot is someone who has spent her entire life fighting bigotry and discrimination with what has always come natural to her, teaching. Jane’s cornerstone project is her now infamous Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment.
We thought, what better way to have discussions during these tense times than by looking at race relations at a macro level. So, we’ve compiled a small comparison of the same Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment to see the differences of race relations in the United States and United Kingdom. This does in no way encapsulate the nuisances of racism across the world. It does, however, act as a tool to spark conversations among all people as we honor Juneteenth.
Before we begin, we think it’s important to understand the motivation behind Jane Elliot’s drive for racial equality. As a white person in America, she is in a protected class. Why would she want to dismantle a system she benefits from? Jane explains this very point to Victoria Adelaide in a recent interview by citing some advice she got from her late father, she says:
“[He would say] Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. If it hasn’t happened to you, don’t criticize somebody for responding the way they do to something that never happened to you…. Never judge a book by its cover; open it up and look at it first. You want to understand it first before you start complaining. You don’t know what the hell that person has lived through and, until you know how that person has lived, you don’t have the right to judge her.”
Understanding seems to be of immense importance for Jane Elliot. So, in that same spirit, let’s begin where most of our readers feel most comfortable to be uncomfortable, at home. Jane Elliot’s United States version of the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment provides the most relatable experience to us here in the states. Take a look below.
The US version of the experiment proves itself to be the most overt in its conclusions. Race relations in the United States tend to be more obvious, but those who are actually learning in the experiment seemed to be far more receptive to the outcome. Jane Elliot’s point of “We live in different realities. But when you deny what this person is going through or what that person is going through, you’re denying their reality” is one that is well taken.
Perhaps because the U.S. version had younger people in its experiment, they were more open minded. We do think it is important to note that of the Blue Eyes, Brown EyesExperiments we’ll be discussing, the US’s younger test subjects, arguably, lacked age and experience in race relations in comparison to the UK and Australian versions. With that said, perhaps the lack in age made for a more receptive and accepting test group.
The UK version of the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment seemed to be rooted in disbelief by the participants. The racism experienced by our brothers and sisters across the pond is very subtle. Take a look at the UK version of Jane Elliot’s international experiment.
As we noted above, the UK version of this experiment yielded some opposition. We see the racism they experience there as a bit more subtle. One of the black participants of the experiment explained this point well, she says, “In the U.K. racism is very subtle. It’s VERY SUBTLE. It’s standing in a que, waiting to be served and the lady at the desk or the reception serves the person behind you or the white family that’s just walked in the door. Or my son running for the bus and getting stopped by the police ‘Why are you running?’”
We think that because the racism experienced in the U.K. is subtle, it bears an heir of disbelief for some of the participants hence their hesitation for change as you can see in the experiment. One other participant in particular continued to mention that because she doesn’t see racism with her own eyes, it’s difficult to acknowledge its existence. Luckily, she became receptive toward the end of the experiment and accepts that she is privileged, yet she is learning. She says, “I’m 63 years old. I’ve seen England change so much. For me it’s so difficult because all of a sudden, we’ve got this multiracial society. It wasn’t there when I was a kid. My kids accept it, they’re amazing. I’m the one that genuinely has a great difficulty with it, but [passionately] I’m learning.”
We hope that on Juneteenth you all take a moment and think about this day. Think about the sacrifices of our forefathers for us to be here this very day. We only have so much time on the planet, let’s not waste it focusing on the trivial differences that divide us. While this is in no way to excuse the actions of past or current oppressors, it is a proclamation and an honor of our past, as a nation. Our entire past, flaws and all.
During Juneteenth please a moment of reflection and gratitude for our black community, both past and present. This day marks a moment in time that changed the course of history. To honor that moment, let us reflect together. Jane Elliot’s Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment is a great tool to achieve this goal. Though uncomfortable, it’s the least we can do to honor this day. Reflect, learn and grow together. Thank you Jane Elliot.
Let’s keep this conversation going. What are some ways you are honoring Juneteenth? Is this your first time hearing about Jane Elliot’s experiment? What are your thoughts? Let me know @JamesMapleActor. If you enjoyed this article, share it with a friend. For the most honest and informative coverage, stay tuned to Afterbuzz TV.
James Maple is a LA based TV Host with a passion for music, interviews and outer space. A comedian at heart, James believes laughter, communication and a good 90s jam is a remedy for anything. You can follow him @terrelljamesmaple.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence
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