“Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” experiment; Iowa Dept. of Corrections training; if you aren’t black..; being present; James Taylor’s song
Welcome to the June edition of Tips and Topics. This edition is focused on an important, game-changing time in USA history.
In SAVVY, I share an experiment from 1970 that changed the attitudes of 3rd graders. The Iowa Dept. of Corrections had a training that was equally illuminating. It’s worth taking 53 minutes of your time to watch. I also highlight three areas of life that black people experience that I have never thought of; and I bet you haven’t either if you are a white person.
In SKILLS, three of my colleagues and friends share their thoughts on what to do and where to start as we rethink race relations; re-imagine policing practices; and search our own attitudes and actions.
In SOUL, I share where I am beginning to commit to change. Also listen to a classic song from the 1949 musical, South Pacific, refreshed and re-recorded by James Taylor.
I have learnt so much in the past month about US history of black and white race relations, personal and systemic issues of race, policing practices, and what has worked before or not. I have written before about racial disparities; unconscious bias and Nonviolent Communication in the January 2019 edition of Tips and Topics.
In the May 2008 edition, I noted that when you are in a minority, certain behaviors and attitudes occur that don’t cross the mind of a person in the majority.
This month, I am sharing more of what I have learned. I hope that this edition will catalyse whatever action you are inspired to take to truly believe and achieve the self-evident truths “that all men* are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” experiment – what third graders teach us about racism
Maybe you learned about this experiment in child development classes. Somehow I had never heard about this before. I got so much out of this one documentary and hope you do too.
Here are excerpts from the Introduction (published January 2003) of the FRONTLINE documentary
“A Class Divided”.
I learnt so much from the full 53 minutes that I hope you have time to listen too. But if you don’t, I have provided the ‘minute’ location of sections of the documentary to focus your attention on relevant sections.
“On the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in April 1968, Jane Elliott’s third graders from the small, all-white town of Riceville, Iowa, came to class confused and upset. They recently had made King their “Hero of the Month,” and they couldn’t understand why someone would kill him. So Elliott decided to teach her class a daring lesson in the meaning of discrimination. She wanted to show her pupils what discrimination feels like, and what it can do to people.”
About minute 2 – minute 17
“Elliott divided her class by eye color – those with blue eyes and those with brown.
- On the first day, the blue-eyed children were told they were smarter, nicer, neater, and better than those with brown eyes…….
- On the second day, the roles were reversed and the blue-eyed children were made to feel inferior while the brown eyes were designated the dominant group.
What happened over the course of the unique two-day exercise astonished both students and teacher.
- On both days, children who were designated as inferior took on the look and behavior of genuinely inferior students, performing poorly on tests and other work.
- In contrast, the “superior” students – students who had been sweet and tolerant before the exercise – became mean-spirited and seemed to like discriminating against the “inferior” group.
“I watched what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third-graders in a space of fifteen minutes,” says Elliott. She says she realized then that she had “created a microcosm of society in a third-grade classroom.”
“Elliott repeated the exercise with her new classes in the following year. The third time, in 1970, cameras were present.”
About minute 20 – minute 26
“Fourteen years later, FRONTLINE’s A Class Divided chronicled a mini-reunion of that 1970 third-grade class.
- As young adults, Elliott’s former students watch themselves on film and talk about the impact Elliott’s lesson in bigotry has had on their lives and attitudes.
- It is Jane Elliott’s first chance to find out how much of her lesson her students had retained.”
- “Nobody likes to be looked down upon. Nobody likes to be hated, teased or discriminated against,” says Verla, one of the former students.
- Another, Sandra, tells Elliott: “You hear these people talking about different people and how they’d like to have them out of the country. And sometimes I just wish I had that collar in my pocket. I could whip it out and put it on and say ‘Wear this, and put yourself in their place.’ I wish they would go through what I went through, you know.”
The Iowa Dept of Corrections training that included prison guards and parole officers
About Minute 30 – 50
“In the last part of A Class Divided, FRONTLINE’s cameras follow Jane Elliott as she takes her exercise to employees of the Iowa prison system. During a daylong workshop in human relations she teaches the same lesson to the adults. Their reactions to the blue-eye, brown-eye exercise are similar to those of the children.
- “After you do this exercise, when the debriefing starts, when the pain is over and they’re all back together, you find out how society could be if we really believed all this stuff that we preach, if we really acted that way, you could feel as good about one another as those kids feel about one another after this exercise is over.
- You create instant cousins,” says Elliott. “The kids said over and over, ‘We’re kind of like a family now.’
- They found out how to hurt one another and they found out how it feels to be hurt in that way and they refuse to hurt one another in that way again.”
Things you haven’t experienced if you are a white person; and that I, as an Asian man have never thought of either
1. I have never experienced being stopped by a police officer for:
(a) Driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood
(b) Not using my turn signal on a lefthand turn
(c) Driving a car that a police officer “thinks” is stolen, not based on any police intelligence or data
- Black GOP Senator Tim Scott, US Senator for South Carolina since 2013, has in one year, been stopped 7 times as an elected official.
- He gave a speech July 14, 2016 in the Senate examining police relations with African Americans.
- Unfortunately this speech could have been given this month again as it seems like nothing has changed.
Listen to at least the first 17 minutes, you will hear his calm, measured list of experiences that many black men have to live with.
- Even on Capitol Hill, you will want to hear his story as a black US Senator wearing the Senate ID pin and the officer’s attitude: “the pin I know, you I don’t. Show me your ID.”
2. It has never crossed my mind to have to prepare so carefully before going out bird-watching.
(a) Juita Martinez says it can take a lot of effort for a black woman to get ready to go into the field bird-watching. “I have to look like a birder, 100 percent. I make sure I have either a field guide in my hand of birds just so people can see that I’m just here to bird. I’m not here to do anything else.”
(b) “It’s always been a precarious situation to be black in America, period,” Jason Ward says. He is often out looking for birds that have been banded for migratory tracking and research purposes. Since this entails a lot of wandering around suburban neighborhoods or being alone in nature, he says there is fear and tension about what a black birder might be accused of doing.
“Unfortunately, something that we love to do, something that we’re so passionate about, is also something that is inherently dangerous for us,” he says.
(c) “Ward says he’s always conscious of his body language and actions when he’s out birding, such as how he reaches into his backpack for his binoculars, how he carries the binoculars or what he wears on his face when the weather turns chilly. White birders don’t have to give a second thought about these things, he says.”
3. Even though I am technically a person of color, it never crossed my mind that for darker, melanin-rich skin, the same skin conditions in a white person can look drastically different, or be harder to spot at all.
(a) Dr. Jenna Lester, who started one of the few clinics in the country to focus on such patients,
explains the need for more dermatologists trained to diagnose and treat people with darker skin tones and why the difference can be both life-saving and life-altering.
(b) Historically, there have been fewer dermatology photos of skin conditions on darker-skinned patients to train physicians. And for these patients, detection and diagnosis can be life-saving: people of color get less melanoma, for example, but are also less likely to survive it.
(c) Dr. Lester said white physicians are often unaware that an apparently simple prescription to shampoo your hair daily may not work easily for a black woman. “When it comes to cleansing black hair, the schedule can be very different from cleansing hair that’s naturally straight. Black hair is often dry, so daily shampooing to get rid of oily buildup isn’t necessary. It can even be detrimental to cleanse too often, especially if you use cleansers that aren’t designed for dry and/or curly hair.”
If you are a white person, ask yourself: “Was I aware of how it is to be a black person in each of these situations?” I know I wasn’t aware of any of this and how it feels to be black in America…..but then you might be more enlightened than me.
This is a time of COVID-19 fears and soul-searching on race relations, policing and our whole system of unconscious bias and unwritten rules and norms. It is easy to become so impassioned no matter what part of the political spectrum you are on.
However, whether you want to be fully present for a client and patient you serve; a friend, relative or acquaintance with whom you disagree; or most importantly at peace with yourself, here are some Tips on where to start.
Put 60 seconds of Goodness into the world and make a difference in the moment
Melissa Piasecki, M.D. is a psychiatrist in Northern Nevada whose career spans medical education (at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine), forensic psychiatry and behavior change (at The Change Companies). Here is her story and tip:
“I was at a staff meeting on Monday (June 1), and the usual group was in an unusual situation. The meeting was held by Zoom due to the pandemic and we were all experiencing pain and fear after watching the violent protests of May 30 and 31. I was attending the meeting as a guest for an agenda topic. But when I heard a colleague say how small and helpless she felt and others concurred with whispers and echos of the word “helpless,” I decided to try something.
I asked the chair of the meeting if she could give me two minutes of non-agenda time. With her permission, I invited everyone to pick up their phone and to spend the next 60 seconds texting someone with words of encouragement, admiration or gratitude. I asked them to choose someone who was hurt, worried or who had shown courage during our crises.
After my timer chimed the end of 60 seconds, I wished I had asked for an extra minute. I would have liked to have asked the group how it felt to put 60 seconds of goodness into the world and to make a difference in that moment.”
I focused my mind on all the good and gifted people I know
I’ve shared before nuggets from my friend, colleague and mentor, Don Kuhl, founder of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® In this one, Don shares what he did when witnessing the television networks coverage of the protests and scenes of destruction:
By Don Kuhl
Understand the stories of those whose journeys and struggles are different
Alyssa Forcehimes, Ph.D. is a psychologist and works as the president of The Change Companies® and Train for Change, Inc.® She is a wife, a mother, and a professional. In this blog, Alyssa suggests where to begin in helping others through hard times:
Where to Begin
By Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD
I don’t know where to begin to address race relations in the USA and the world. I don’t know what systems changes; attitude and skills trainings; and public health interventions would work. Here is what I do know and believe:
- I know that if I am feeling angry, judgmental, frustrated, hopeless, and demoralized, nothing good will come of whatever I co-create with others who are equally committed to action and change.
- I know what happens when I dwell on all the political tribalism, feeding on the hate and anger that I understand, but don’t want to magnify. I become less empathic and less interested in understanding the “other” side. It is so easy to demonize others who believe differently.
- I watch and read just enough news to stay informed on what is happening in the world. But I cut off the news feed much sooner than ever before. I only read and hear enough for me to create the contrast and vision of what I don’t want and that then sharpens my focus on what I do want to see change.
- If I spend too much time focused on the injustices and police behavior and the negative events all around me, I only seem to attract more negativity, despair, anger and frustration – all feelings that don’t create new paths.
- I am focusing my energy and attention on what I want the world to be like. Then I believe I will attract to my sphere of influence the people, ideas, and solutions that will clarify how to proceed.
In all my scientific training I was taught: “You have to see it to believe it.”
Now I am saying: “You have to believe it, to see it.” I have to believe there is a better, fairer, compassionate and effective way to transform racial injustice and conflict.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters is James Taylor. But his latest album doesn’t have one song that he wrote. Instead, it is full of American standards – songs that have been tested over time and remain classics.
“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” was a showtune from the 1949 musical South Pacific written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. This song and its message is particularly relevant today, especially when considering systemic racism and unconscious bias. Whether you believe such exists or not, James Taylor’s rendition invites us to reconsider a song “judged by some to be too controversial or downright inappropriate for the musical stage. Sung by the character Lieutenant Cable, the song is preceded by a line saying racism is “not born in you! It happens after you’re born…”
Listen and ponder the lyrics:
LYRICS – “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught“
You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be carefully taught
What are you teaching your children, students, friends and neighbors?