By Jenny Chhea, LDIR Intern
Watching Oprah Winfrey’s show from 1992 that had a segment of Jane Elliot talking about race in America made me look at race at a whole new perspective again.
In this video, Jane Elliott – a white women – claims that she herself is racist because she was born and raised in a racial society. Explaining her experiment as a teacher to her students, she explains how in her blue-eye/brown-eye experiment to teach diversity training, brown eyed people are separated from blue eyed people and are treated as people of color. But treated in this perspective – unable to speak to the blue-eyed folks, unable to question any authority, and not allowed to play on the playground – her students become angry, feeling shocked and oppressed by the experiment.
Jane Elliott further goes on to reveal to the audience other forms of how racism is institutionalized in our society. It is institutionalized in our education. “Brown eyed” people contribute to our society, but only in the education system are we taught about white contributions. Racism exists in the form of cartography – where in social science maps, the United States is in the center and Greenland is shown as a large island even bigger than South America. Band-Aid colors are based on the color of white flesh – not people of color. Peach color pantyhoes are sold as “nude” to represent the nude color of whites, not people of color. When in elementary school we try to color our skin in our drawings – we use a peach color to color our faces – not yellow, brown, or black.
By the fact that this is from 1992 shows that our struggles are still continuing. It is now 2013 and today we still face these problems of racism – even when people claim that our society is post racial. Even though we are in the post civil rights movement and no explicit segregation exists today, people of color still face different forms of oppression. Institutionally, our education and history textbooks still fail to talk about the contributions of people of color and mention their history in the United States. Systematically, our justice system fails to address the fact that people of color are the most criminalized – and police brutality is sometimes targeted at people of color. Interpersonally, people still make racist comments towards each other. But not just about race; micro aggressions even exist in gender and sexuality. With the age of technology and internet, oppression takes on a new outlet through cyberspace – allowing not only discriminatory opinions to be shared online but providing a question as to who has access to this medium. These forms of oppression show the immensity that institutionalized and interpersonal racism still exists in our society and how we as people of color, or allies of color, need self-advocacy to fight for justice.
Today, we need to become social change leaders and proactive allies. Becoming a social change leader means being committed to social justice and equality and believing in the empowerment of underprivileged communities. It means being critically conscious of the power dynamics of our society and the different levels of oppression – but also using this understanding to create dialogue among others. It means bridging the gap between different race, gender, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation to create interpersonal and intergroup relationships to fight for common social justice. Being a proactive ally means also understanding this power dynamic and using whatever privilege possessed to help fight for that common social justice. Today, we need these types of leaders who understand the continued oppression and who understand the need to create intergroup alliances to fight for change. Leadership Development for Interethnic Relations, created after the 1992 Los Angeles riots that rather pit different racial groups against each other, actually facilitates these types of workshops in its trainings. LDIR develops these leaders that we need in society today.
Like what Jane Elliott said – “we don’t need love. We need justice.” it’s not just love that we need for each other – we need a love for justice.
Here is the video: