ODVV interview: Stop teaching disrespect for...
Jane Elliott is a distinguished American former third-grade school-teacher, anti-racism activist, feminist and educationalist. She is known for implementing an exercise called "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" in a classroom of third-graders in Riceville, Iowa, to figure out how racist her students were and gauge the amount of racial prejudice towards other races among her young pupils. The highly-controversial test created divisions among the townspeople and made her a national icon of fight against racism.
She did the exercise one day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and her initiative became the basis of much of what is now known as "diversity training". She introduced this method to firms in the U.S., U.S. Department of Education and at the beginning of 1990s, the United Kingdom built upon her method to pass the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 in modification of the earlier Race Relations Act 1976.
On the occasion of 21st March, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Jane Elliot took part in an interview with Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence to discuss the global rise of far-right and Islamophobia, the international community's response to different forms of racial discrimination and the plight of the Rohingya Muslims. She also shared some insights about her "Blue eye, brown eyes exercise" and talked about her ambitions for a better world in which racial and religious discrimination are not tolerated.
Q: 21st March is dubbed by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in memory of the violent encounter between the peaceful protesters against the apartheid pass laws in Sharpeville, South Africa and the police forces who opened fire on them and killed 69 people. With the abolition of apartheid laws and coming to power of Nelson Mandela, living conditions improved and now South Africa is one of the advanced economies of the world and a member of the Group of Twenty. Does the success of South Africa mean that other countries in the global south, which are still facing similar problems as racial discrimination and sexual inequality can realise stability and fulfil justice as expected by their citizens?
A: Obviously, the countries in the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia can realise stability and fulfil justice as expected by their citizens, as long as the majority of their citizens are no longer being conditioned to believe in the myth of race. Until we have citizens who have been educated to the fact of one race, the human race, 'justice as expected by their citizens' will continue to include institutionalised racism, which is the opposite of justice.
Q: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights considers fighting racism its priority and works with governments and organisations worldwide to make sure that discrimination in public and private spheres is not tolerated and eliminated. The plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar or political and military tensions in the Persian Gulf which are directly and immeasurably affecting the lives of civilian population in this region, and similar developments elsewhere in the world mean that the efforts have been insufficient and ineffective and the governments concerned are also reluctant or resistant to reform and change. What's your take on that?
A: Let's not conflate racism and religious discrimination. Religion is based on a belief which is learned and can be changed, whereas racism is based on a physical characteristic over which we have no control, and which shouldn't have to be changed. Religion is a tool which is used to control individual's behaviour, in the name of someone's concept of God. Racism is a tool which was constructed and perpetuated by people to maintain their control over society. Individuals regularly change their religion, for various reasons, but skin colour is immutable and must no longer be used to determine the worth or intelligence of human beings. Both discrimination based on skin colour and that based on religious affiliation are the result of ignorance. Nathan Rutstein tells us that, "prejudice is an emotional commitment to ignorance." And the cure for ignorance is education.
Q: Racism and racial bias in many of the world countries is part of the culture and the worldview of the mainstream population, as reflected in their daily conversations, the literature they read and the sort of arts they follow. Social divisions, the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities, social deprivations and of course unemployment makes the mockery of other races and languages part of the folklore. In multicultural societies which are more receptive to immigration, balancing the demands of the elites and fighting the reality of systematic racism seems to be a bit difficult and even unachievable. What's the solution in your view? Is teaching values such as "tolerance", "patience"; and "respect" in schools and universities something that can solve this dilemma while the media, especially the tabloid newspapers and gossip media promote other virtues?
A: We must stop teaching intolerance, impatience, and disrespect for those who are other than white, male, and Christian, for God's sake! It's time to start teaching the truth, which is that there is only one race, the Human race, and we are all members of it. Only when we begin to educate the educators will we learn our way out of this mess. I learned, on the first day of the "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise", that I don't want to be tolerated, in the way in which we use that word, today. The problem with tolerance is that those in power decide who deserves to be tolerated and those who are out of power have to tolerate those decisions. "Patience?" People of colour groups, other than whites, have been patient for 500 years! "Respect?" How do people hold in esteem those who have treated them disrespectfully, because of ignorance, for centuries?
Q: Islamophobia, attacking mosques and Islamic institutions in parts of Europe and Northern America has become, as described by some media, "standardised", partly ignored and even condoned. The official figures of the government of Germany show that 2,219 attacks against the immigrants and their shelters were recorded in 2017. 950 attacks against the Muslims and institutions run by them were also reported in the same period of time. Public discourse about racism is stifled and right-wing parties such as AfD resist the government and no support is offered to those "patriotic" and "law-abiding" Muslims, who have long demonstrated their commitment to the principles of good citizenship. Is Islamophobia in Germany institutionalised and accepted and isn't it time for the Muslims to enjoy equal rights and opportunities?
A: Of course, Islamaphobia in Germany is institutionalised and accepted, just as anti-Semitism in Germany was institutionalised and accepted ninety years ago. "Those who forget the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them." They have forgotten and are repeating the mistakes of the past. How, then, can we expect Justice from Muslims, in the future, if we haven't provided it for them, in the present?
Q: Resisting racism and racial discrimination is an everlasting fight. As an academic who has successfully implemented the "blue eyes – brown eyes" exercise, do you think it's possible to improve or change the mentality of all of those who have xenophobic and racist attitudes? Is it possible to envision a day when racism and all of its forms, including Islamophobia, white supremacism, xenophobia and misogyny are eradicated, while families don't prepare their kids to face such realities by nurturing and educating children who are ready to live alongside citizens of other races and countries peacefully?
A: There are no other races! There are only numerous colour groups in the human race, and, if we begin to teach real history, instead of teaching white fantasy, the next generation could know and understand that all human beings have the right to be nurtured and educated, instead of being tolerated and indoctrinated.
By: Kourosh Ziabari