© 2022 NPR Illinois
Stand with the Facts
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Click here to be "In the know." Subscribe to the NPR Illinois Daily newsletter.

Long Time Anti-Racism Educator Jane Elliott To Speak In Springfield

c/o California State University, San Bernardino
Jane Elliott giving a lecture

Jane Elliott was a teacher in Riceville, Iowa in the late sixties. She says she was disturbed by the way much of white America reacted to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. She had been teaching her third graders about him, presenting him as a hero for his work to end racism. But she didn't think it was enough, and she was afraid of what the parents of her students were saying about race at home.

"This is not white privilege that we're talking about - this is white ignorance ... I don't expect the victims to change the situation (racism), I expect the perpetrators to." - Jane Elliott

Elliott went on to conduct a "blue eyes/brown eyes" demonstration in her classroom where students were separated into groups based on their eye color, and one group was deemed superior for reasons she made up. Since then, it's become a well-known teaching tool. Elliott stresses that race is a social construct, and says her demonstration shows how easily false beliefs about superiority can take hold. It's gained her critics and admirers alike over the past 35+ years, and it's been used hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

Elliott will present a free and open to the public lecture called “Power, Perception and Prejudice” at UIS on Friday night (info here.) She spoke with NPR Illinois in anticipation of that event:

You can watch a PBS Frontline documentary about Elliott and her legacy, here:

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
Related Stories