How easy is it to create discrimination?
After Martin Luther King was murdered in April 1968, Jane Elliott, a third-grade teacher from Iowa, tried to explain to her confused and upset pupils why someone could kill another person for being different. So she decided to create a lesson on discrimination for her all-white students, to teach them what discrimination feels like.
The next day, Jane Elliott divided her pupils by eye color, one group for brown eyes and another for green. Throughout the first day, she told the green-eyed children that they were smarter, let them answer in class, and gave them privileges like longer recess. In contrast, the brown-eyed students had to wear collars around their necks and were criticized for their behavior and answers in class. On the second day, the rules were reversed.
During those two days, Jane Elliott was stunned by the children’s behavior: the ones that were declared inferior started behaving like inferior students, performing poorly in class. On the other hand, the “superior” children started discriminating against the “inferior” children, acting rudely towards them.
“I watched what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third-graders in a space of fifteen minutes,” said Elliott.
Elliot repeated that test several times over several years. Some of them were photographed, and at all times the results were the same. When you declare a group to be superior, they start acting with discrimination towards other people.
Years later, one of the students said: “Nobody likes to be looked down upon. Nobody likes to be hated, teased or discriminated against.”
This experiment became a famous experiments in group behavioral psychology, and Jane Elliott dedicated her life to teaching against discrimination.