Culture in Mind

Mental health, culture, and ethnicity

'A Class Divided': How we learn to discriminate

What happens when we divide ourselves into us/them: privilege, power & racism

Jane Elliott, PBS interview, Dec 19,2002
I am choosing not to write about the psychology of race but rather link you with a lot of resources that demonstrate how we learn to discriminate and the power of race privilege. I am inspired to provide this post with lots of educational resources in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education decision.

Race and Privilege

With the intellectual and emotional firestorms incited by the recent Sterling incident, and the discussion of privilege provoked by Tal Fortgang's Time editorial, Why I'll Never Apologize for my White Male Privilege, the timelessness of Jane Elliott's experiment on discrimination that was featured in the Frontline documentary 'A Class Divided' still resonates. We have clearly come far but still have a long way to go when it come to race relations in the United States of America.

Jane Elliott and Her 1968 Discrimination Experiment

In 1968, teacher Jane Elliott divided her all-white rural Iowa 3rd graders into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups and gave one group 'superiority' over the other. This famous, and still relevant, lesson in discrimination changed the lives of her students forever.

In the 60th year beyond Brown v Board of Education, Frontline is making available their classic 1985 documentary, A Class Divided,  about the experiment and what happened later. It is a must-see in understanding how we view each other when we are divided into us and them, and is one of the most requested Frontline videos. Click here to view. Clips of the original 1970 ABC News documentary, Eye of the Storm that highlighted the experiment (and is included in the Frontline video) can be viewed if you click here.

Jane Elliott on Oprah (1992)

In 1992 Oprah hosted Jane Elliott - who became an expert on the issue of discrimination - on her show to talk about what happened then and what happened when she conducted the experiment with different groups across America. Click here to view what happens on the show as this very charismatic woman talks about difference and how it influences how we see ourselves and each other in a racial context.

Presidential Proclamation -- 60th Anniversary of Brown v Board of Education

Click here to read President Obama's (May 15, 2014) Presidential Proclamation of the 60th Anniversary of Brown v Board of Education. In it he talks about how far we have come and how far we have to go. For proof of that read this Frontline report  (May 15, 2014) on the return of school segregation 60 years later: 'Report: School Segregation is Back, 60 years after "Brown".

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.S.W., and M.P.H., is the author of Bipolar 101 and is an associate clinical professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. 

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