Saturday, March 24, 2007

B for Blue Eyed

I saw an amazing documentary recently about the incredible work of a lady named Jane Elliott. The video was called Blue Eyed and it's one of those rare ones that I think everyone should see. I don't mean this in the sense of 'you'll really enjoy this' but more like 'everybody should be forced to sit down and watch this'. It's about a race-relations workshop she's been doing for about 40 years and shows one of the workshops taking place. The video also explores Ms. Elliott's life and the problems she ran into when she first started doing this in the elementary school class she taught back in the 60s. Of course most of her neighbors didn't take to it very well but that didn't stop her, thankfully.

The workshop (which she'll do for you!) starts when she divides up her participants into two groups based on eye color and then gives one of the groups specific directions on how to treat the other group. For instance, she'll tell the brown eyed that blue eyed people aren't as smart and they won't do very well on the test she'll give everybody, right after she gives the brown eyed people the answers. The process recreates the experience of racism in society but now it's (generally) different people who get to be the oppressors and the oppressed. Afterwards there's a discussion period where people talk about how they felt being discriminated against, such as being told they weren't as smart as those with different colored eyes. And of course the African Americans in the workshop point out that those feelings are similar to what they feel every day.

When people usually talk about 'white guilt' it involves slavery, something I've never been able to muster up the guilt for as I've never owned slaves (still trying to train those rabbits, however). While that was certainly a horrible crime against humanity, the fact is that whites should feel guilt about their ongoing complicity in the current racial climate, where nonwhite ethnicities feel inferior due to numerous subtle cultural traditions.

The more I thought about the video the more I was reminded of V for Vendetta. A good friend had a problem with the movie based on the fact that V actually tortures Evey to help 'free her'. This is something I never considered in all the years I've been rereading V for Vendetta: is it ok to torture somebody in order to teach them something very important? I never considered V's actions wrong and seeing Blue Eyed reinforces the fact that there are some things you can only learn through experience. Just as V has to torture Evey to make her the type of person who can replace him and stand up to the government, people don't really understand racism until they experience it. While I still feel I've learned a lot thru viewing 'Blue Eyed', I hope to take part in the actual workshop someday.

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