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Eye of the storm
December 28, 2008 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Many of us have seen or read The Wave, but how many of us have seen A Class Divided? It depicts one third-grade teacher's attempts to teach Midwestern children about the civil rights movement, many of whom had never met a black person before. As part of a daring experiment, she split the class between brown-eyed children and blue-eyed children, and gave the "browneyes" special privileges. The children were told, in no uncertain terms, that the "blueyes" were inferior. What followed was a lesson in discrimination that the kids would remember for the rest of their lives.
posted by Afroblanco (53 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is this a record for a non-Newsfilter post?
posted by Joe Beese at 4:59 PM on December 28, 2008


Redux
posted by mattoxic at 5:03 PM on December 28, 2008


Why didn't you just put this in the other thread, especially since you already discussed it there?

Oh, right, favorites.
posted by sleepy pete at 5:04 PM on December 28, 2008


My favorite for "random and cruel experiments on children" would be the Monster Study — let's make children stutter!
posted by adipocere at 5:06 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oprah did this too.
posted by Falconetti at 5:07 PM on December 28, 2008


Why didn't you just put this in the other thread, especially since you already discussed it there?

Um, because it's a separate experiment, and deserves its own FPP?

Actually, I was pretty amazed to find the whole documentary online, and wanted to share it with everybody who isn't reading the other post.

In any case, if the mods don't like it, they'll delete it, and that will be that.

Oh, right, favorites.

Jesus Christ, way to be cynical and project yourself onto others.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:09 PM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


Excellent post.
It's an amazing documentary. Every person to whom I have recommended it loved it.
Quit backbiting.
posted by hooptycritter at 5:18 PM on December 28, 2008


According to a Reason article linked from the Wikipedia article linked from the previous thread, Jane Elliott said "You're all sitting here writing in a language [English] that white people didn't come up with". Can anyone explain what she means by that, because it sounds insane to me? I mean, I'm not deeply emotionally attached to notions of English Greatness or whatever, but as English is an unnatural melding of French, German and Scandinavian (with bits of Latin and Greek dropped in like chocolate chips), I have absolutely no idea what she's talking about.
posted by Grangousier at 5:26 PM on December 28, 2008


I do accept that she might not have said anything like it, by the way, as that article's hardly a rave review. Bit of a tendentious comment that. Sorry, I'm trying to avoid commenting in the Gaza thread and it just slipped out.
posted by Grangousier at 5:42 PM on December 28, 2008


Oh, right, favorites.

Jesus Christ, way to be cynical and project yourself onto others.


Zing! How do you figure I'm projecting, Afroblanco? And what does Jesus have to do with it? You mentioned it in another thread and then created an FPP. How else should I read it? Cynicism, yes. Lame ass post, yes. So, really, how else should I read it?
posted by sleepy pete at 5:49 PM on December 28, 2008


It could make sense in that the idea of a "White race" would seem to spring from the age of European exploration and colonialism and didn't exist back in the more formative days of the English language, but the quote in context implies to me that Jane Elliott doesn't understand that.

"You're all sitting here writing in a language [English] that white people didn't come up with," she told the magazine. "You're all sitting here writing on paper that white people didn't invent. Most of you are wearing clothes made out of cloth that white people didn't come up with. We stole those ideas from other people. If you're a Christian, you're believing in a philosophy that came to us from people of color."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:52 PM on December 28, 2008


The plaid-skinned Nibble-Pibblies invented English. Evil mute whities coveted it and stole it from them.

I'm not surprised TheOnlyCoolTim has never heard of them. *sigh*
posted by codswallop at 6:02 PM on December 28, 2008


I am going to go learn the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome" now. Just in case.
posted by Flunkie at 6:03 PM on December 28, 2008


"People of color" is one of the dumbest terms I've encountered. Way up there with "world music" for its sheer idiocy and being wrong on like 13 levels.
posted by signal at 6:05 PM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


Speak for yourself, signal. I like being without color, and thus invisible.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:17 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, for anyone who gave up on it early, the last (fifth) chapter is the money shot, where it is done on adults.
posted by Flunkie at 6:18 PM on December 28, 2008


Crap. Just realized that my statement could be taken in a very different way than intended. *sigh*
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:19 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think sleepy pete needs a nap. He seems kinda cranky.
posted by Ludi at 6:20 PM on December 28, 2008


Holy crap, this is an amazing doc. Thanks for posting it.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:34 PM on December 28, 2008


I *swore* I had heard of this, and lo, this was made in '85. I'm sure it's the same thing I was thinking of. Still, I hadn't *seen* it before, so thanks for the post!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:41 PM on December 28, 2008


My favorite part has always been when the Jane asks the one little boy about what happened, and he's like "I punched Billy". And Jane says where'd you hit him? And he's all "in the gut". Jane is awesome because she straight sells it. She's like a comedian with her replies - always has something better than you can say. This is an older-than-dirt video, but indeed it's classic.
posted by cashman at 6:43 PM on December 28, 2008


My second grade teacher did this experiment to us in Idaho in 1967 or 68. I was a blue eyer.
posted by tamitang at 7:22 PM on December 28, 2008


Thanks for posting this. Some of us don't read all the comment on the blue and would have missed this.

sleepy pete, take a nap.
posted by nola at 7:22 PM on December 28, 2008


Grangousier writes "'You're all sitting here writing in a language [English] that white people didn't come up with'. Can anyone explain what she means by that, because it sounds insane to me?"

The written glyphs, the characters, the alphabet, derive from a Phoenician alphabet, influenced by Greek letter-forms, and standardized by the Romans. The Phonecians were a Semetic people, the Greeks were a mix of indigenous Indo-Europeans and "Dorian" mass-migrants from we don't know where, and the Romans theoretically Trojans who conquered and inter-married with Etruscans in Italy. Depending on your racial theories, all three peoples may or may not be "white" (in certain country clubs down South, probably none would qualify).
posted by orthogonality at 7:28 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


All the snarking aside, can anyone tell me what it means to be "white" . Because I seriously don't get it.

A few months ago there was all this hand-wringing and yapping about Obama being a "black" man. Yet his mother was "white", and his father was "black", equal proportions, by my math.

So how does that make him a "black man" ? Who decides these things?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:56 PM on December 28, 2008


All the snarking aside, can anyone tell me what it means to be "white" . Because I seriously don't get it.

*Straps on football helmet, fastens avalanche harness.*
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:03 PM on December 28, 2008


"This is a fact: blue eyed people are brown eyes people."

This falls under lies we tell kills? I'm sure, in the third grade I would have sucked into this, but damn would I have felt betrayed afterwards. I was bitter enough about that "sugar and spice and all things nice" and "Snips and snails, and puppy-dogs' tails" bullshit. (Yes, I'm looking at you Mrs Stockholm).

"I watched what had been marvellous, co-operative, wonderful thoughtful children, turn into nasty vicious, discriminating, little third graders, in the space of fifteen minutes."

Personally I think you took children, who at that age are nasty and vicious at least some of the time regardless, and gave them a new target. The fat kids, the kids with a lisp, the kids with braces, the poor kids with the patched clothes, the kids with glasses, the kids with the bowl haircut their mum gave them, would probably have been grateful to have the heat taken off them for a bit.

For the kids actually in the class, hopefully this opened their eyes to how hurtful "us and them" can be to children who were used to being the "us". But I'm not sure what this tells the rest of us about anything. Hmm... perhaps there's something in the fact that labelling some of them as "them" was a self forefilling prophesy.
posted by adamt at 8:08 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


PareidoliaticBoy writes "So how does that make him a 'black man' ? Who decides these things?"

In the US, "white" has been a position of priviledge for four centuries. As with any privileged group, you define it by who is not in it. I won't go into it at length, but the "Herrenvolk" or "Mudsill Democracy" theory says by giving poor whites a group to be "better than", more privileged than by birth-right, prevents a union of multi-racial, multiethnic working class against the white aristocracy/oligarchy/plutocracy.

This has been demonstrated numerous times for at least two centuries in the American South, as racially moderate (or progressive) populists transformed themselves into race-baiting agitators. (Faubus, Wallace, Tom Watson (though in his case, less racism against blacks than antisemitism and anti-catholic bigotry).)

So to make the Mudsill work, you have to prevent "miscegenation". Since love and rape and everything in between make that impossible, you need to make inter-racial persons "not white": thus the "one-drop rule", or the theory that a single black great-great-grandparent (and 15 other white ones) makes a person "black".

In fact, 'non-whiteness" was extended beyond blacks, to Jews, to Italians, to other Roman Catholic immigrants, to Mexicans (though not Spaniards) and even to Indians. (Indians were harder, as a number of prominent white families in the South had intermarried with Indians, mostly from agriculturalist tribes. "Fortunately", for whites and their supremacy, Andrew Jackson made Indian ancestry picaresque and moot by removing most of the non-intermixed Indians to Oklahoma by way of the Trail of Tears.)

To at least the mid-20th Century, in the Aerican South, Jews and Italians (and subcontinental Indians from Calcutta and Mumbai) were still seen as non-white in parts of the South, and the Ku Klux Klan, in addition to terrorizing blacks, took time to expose "nativist" hate of Catholics. Indeed, Margaret Sanger, whose advocacy for birth control was in part to support a eugenics movement aimed at preventing "inferior races" from "over-breeding" helped to further solidify the idea of "sound white bloodlines' and the need to out-breed the other.

So "white" is just a convenient label to mean "our people", when used by "whites", just as for bigoted Brits "the wogs start at Calais".

Again, google "Mudsill", "one-drop", miscegenation, "Southern Populism", Sanger, eugenics.
posted by orthogonality at 8:34 PM on December 28, 2008 [11 favorites]


Er, espouse, not expose.
posted by orthogonality at 8:40 PM on December 28, 2008


one really interesting fact that made me understand the artificial construct of "whiteness" is when i found out that in Minnesota in the early part of the 1900s, Finns were not considered to be white. and them's some crazy pale people, no?
posted by RedEmma at 9:07 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


whoops. meant to go to page 61.
posted by RedEmma at 9:10 PM on December 28, 2008


The written glyphs, the characters, the alphabet, derive from a Phoenician alphabet, influenced by Greek letter-forms, and standardized by the Romans.

This comment confuses the writing system with the language. English, the language, can be conveyed in various forms (speech, standard writing, braille, fingerspelling, Signed English, etc.). People don't speak in letters.
posted by cogneuro at 9:15 PM on December 28, 2008


That's a great précis orthogonality, thanks. It does seem to confirm my suspicion that this is primarily an American obsession, although the wogs at Calais reference is not lost on someone of Scotch/English descent.

That said, I guess it's easy for those not constantly exposed to this invidious mindset to become blasé about its effects.

Some time ago, when my crew still roved in large packs, I was at a nightclub with about 30 of my friends. A U.S. warship of some sort was in harbour, and some of the sailors came into the club. One of them went down the row of tables we were at, and asked all the girls that were there to dance. They all said no.

Dejected, he sat down beside me and complained that the girls I was with were no fun. I explained to him that his haircut and uniform weren't exactly magnets for the women there, and bought him a beer. We were sitting there discussing the merits of traveling the world and exploding strangers when my friend Michelle sat down across from us. I told him that he should ask her to dance, as she was not only quite attractive, but very bright, and not as shallow in her social attitudes as most of her contemporaries.

With a sneer he said "I aint dancing with no 'baccy!"

Having never heard this expression, I asked for an explanation.

"You know, a tabbacy! A nigger! I aint dancin' with no nigger!"

When they got me off of him he was pretty much out cold, and his three friends who jumped in had been pretty much trashed as well in the ensuing riot.

Anywaze ... as we sitting around doing the post-mortem it finally dawned on me for the first time that Michelle's coffee-coloured skin , frizzy black hair, and birthplace in Trinidad somehow made her contemptible in the eyes of some. For her part, Michelle was splitting a gut laughing, and thought it was just hilarious that I'd known her for a decade, and never noticed that she was black. She said I looked like a kid who had discovered that there was no Santa Claus when the light dawned on me that this guy wouldn't dance with her because of the colour of skin.

People are morons sometimes.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:21 PM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


The written glyphs, the characters, the alphabet, derive from a Phoenician alphabet, influenced by Greek letter-forms, and standardized by the Romans.
This comment confuses the writing system with the language. English, the language, can be conveyed in various forms (speech, standard writing, braille, fingerspelling, Signed English, etc.). People don't speak in letters.
She specifically said "writing".

Granted, she said "writing in a language that white people didn't come up with", rather than "... in an alphabet...", but it seems somewhat silly to make some sort of mountain out of this molehill of what is quite believably a somewhat valid point expressed slightly inaccurately while speaking extemporaneously.
posted by Flunkie at 9:26 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


My tenth grade pre-AP english class studied both while getting ready to read Night. We also had to go around with a star of david pinned on for a day, and we had to bring a pair of shoes to pile up in the room.

My teacher was very hands on, and it sunk in.
posted by rubah at 9:42 PM on December 28, 2008


this is primarily an American obsession
No, it isn't. Trying to come up with a way to categorize mixed-race people really isn't just an American thing. Mixed-race babies left behind in Vietnam after the war were called "the dust of life". South African apartheid used the pencil test. There are words for mixed-race people in a lot of languages- Canadians have the Métis, Filipinos have Mestizos, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans talk about pelo malo and pelo bueno (bad hair and good hair, or kinky hair and curly hair, respectively), all through South and Central America, the lightness of a person's skin is a visual clue for their ethnic mix (how Spanish-looking they are as opposed to how indigenous-looking) and etc, etc, etc.
The concept certainly exists in other societies.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:06 PM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


We were talking about the definition of " black" specifically as it related to a social experiment conducted in America in the 80's, and how this artificial construct permeates everyday life there.

Note also that I said obsession. Racism and warrantless disgust with the "other" is a universal trait, just ask the Pakestians in Gaza or their Israeli neighbours.

No Canadians I know obsess about these things on a daily basis however, or use it as a rule to conduct their daily lives. As I said though, people can be real morons, and that statement is hardly limited to Americans.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:25 PM on December 28, 2008


Wow. I remember watching this in grade 7, and how utterly alien the whole idea seemed to us, a classroom made up of Chinese, Koreans, Jews, WASPS, one kid from India, etc.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:26 PM on December 28, 2008


Er ... Palestinians. But those bleedin' wogs Pakistanis and Indians better shape up too, or else expect a damn good thrashing!
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:34 PM on December 28, 2008


It's theorized that purely cosmetic variance arose as tribes in-bred (founder effect, etc.), and then were reinforced because these cosmetic differences produced a way of distinguishing, at a distance, between "my tribe" and "strangers who will kill/rob/rape/enslave me".

If so, it enhances survival to become (consciously or not) aware of these traits, and to associate one's own tribe's traits with "good" and their absence with "bad": after all, the more your kids looked like the tribe, the less chance they'd be killed by a jealous Daddy, or ostracized, or exiled, or just killed accidentally by a fellow tribesman on their way back from the hunt on a dark night.

Oh course, no one worked this out and picked a mate accordingly; instead, as usual, those who happened to have a gene to prefer "likeness" prospered and passed that gene along, and one easy way to motivate a human to do something is to make it feel good, so a "pick likeness" gene prospered even more accompanied by a "enjoy likeness, judge it as beautiful" gene.

So it seems that it (used to be) advantageous to love likeness and damn different, and to divide people based on very fine, even barely existent "differences", and that's likely been built in to our genes, just as our preferences for symmetry and squar-jawed men and nubile and curvaceous women.

The irony is that as species go, humans are very undifferentiated, probably because we went through a bottle-neck where our world-wide population was just a few thousand, only about 80,000 years ago. (Maybe because of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia that blotted out the sun in a "nuclear winter" about that time.)

Since them we've multiplied -- and divided, and it seems our most intractable conflicts are not between different skins, but between tribes that to to outsiders seem indistinguishable: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, Hutus and Tutsis (though pushed into conflict by the rapacious white King of Belgium), the Muslim sons of Abraham and their Jewish brothers, Semites both.

(Skin color, however, is functional and not cosmetic; without modern clothing, light-skinned people die of cancer under the tropical sun, and without modern Vitamin-D supplements, dark-skinned people get rickets in less insolated climes.)
posted by orthogonality at 11:46 PM on December 28, 2008


PareidoliaticBoy writes "No Canadians I know obsess about these things on a daily basis however,"

Well, the natives who are dragged out into the woods and left to die in the freezing winter by racist Canadian cops might disagree.
posted by orthogonality at 11:48 PM on December 28, 2008


Now now. No one is claiming that Canada is blemishless here. Just that this obsession with "blackness" is a limited construct.

I'll repeat what I said before in this context. People can be morons.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:04 AM on December 29, 2008


PareidoliaticBoy, time to back down. You're not the only Canadian on MetaFilter and you're not making that much sense.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:07 AM on December 29, 2008


I think I recall a similar experiment being done in a fellow middle school classroom when I was in school (not my class, but I heard about it from friends). I believe it was based on the same differentiation of eye colour.

However, it was made apparent to the kids that the people with a certain eyecolour wold be treated better, and I believe they had context, so it's not the same premise as the documentary...

Also, I agree with everyone who points out that grade-school kids can be awful to each other a rule. They don't need any kind of experiment to be mean!
posted by fantine at 3:16 AM on December 29, 2008


Great, absolutely great link. Still, there will always be people who will find their beliefs rocked and will try to deny the experiment's value, or try to laugh it off. Maybe they should go through some discrimination themselves, huh?
posted by acrobat at 7:36 AM on December 29, 2008


Scotch/English descent

Scotch? Your daddy was a bottle of whiskey?
posted by meosl at 7:52 AM on December 29, 2008


So how does that make him a "black man" ? Who decides these things?

Cab drivers.
posted by Sparx at 11:18 AM on December 29, 2008


cab drivers, BTW, are some of the most racist people i've ever met. (i drove a cab for a time in Chicago.) and i was shocked at the time to discover that a great many of the men who would tell me to never pick up a black man were *from Africa* (esp. Nigeria). the worst part of that was that i ended up picking up a whole lot of *very pissed off* black guys who would let loose on *me* for the fact that they'd been standing in the rain for a half hour.
posted by RedEmma at 12:44 PM on December 29, 2008


Oh, man.

My teacher tried this when I was a kid in Ontario but I was sick and missed school the second day and I've spent the last 25 years hating those goddamn browneyes and now apparently she was just fucking with me.

THANK YOU SO MUCH MRS. WATSON.
posted by Shepherd at 1:26 PM on December 29, 2008


I was on the student committee that brought Jane Elliott to speak at K-State in '96. What I remember most is that the Westboro Baptist people decided to come over and protest.

Oh, Fred. Thanks for helping to illustrate the point.
posted by rewil at 11:14 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


RedEmma writes "a great many of the men who would tell me to never pick up a black man were *from Africa* (esp. Nigeria)"

Yeah, African immigrants hate black American descendants of slaves, and vice-versa (and yes, particularly cabbies, I've gotten earfuls even as a passenger). It's more of the "Mudsill": if you can't (practically) claim to be better than the most privileged, at least find an excuse to designate some other group as worsethan yours.

(But Nigerians are particularly weird: I've been inside their embassy to the US, I've met government officials (including those who proudly claimed to be in the Secret Police), and relatives of very high officials. Some are nice, but they're all kind of weird. Yes, yes, anecdotes and stereotypes, but, they're weird.)
posted by orthogonality at 11:36 PM on December 29, 2008


Wow, I had no idea I was in an interracial marriage.
posted by desjardins at 11:53 AM on December 30, 2008


Pretty much a double.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:15 PM on December 30, 2008


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