Interview with Jane Elliot

August 19, 2020


Jane Elliott, world-renowned educator and advocate, can hardly believe the world is still in such need of her work. Today working as a diversity trainer for organizations, Jane´s road to the forefront of allyship has spanned over 5 decades, and involved many moments of pain and deep introspection. Here, she offers her perspective on a world that isn´t quite as different as she´d imagined after a half a century fighting the good fight.

0:37 Early Education
As racism is a learned behavior rather than an innate attribute, Jane Elliott holds early education on the topic paramount in creating individuals well-suited to a brighter future. Her famous ¨Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes¨ exercise drew considerable interdisciplinary attention by creating what Elliott envisioned as ´a microcosm of society´ in an effort to highlight the merits of empathy. Undeterred by decades of pushback, she instills the values of equality in each of her students by drawing on historical examples of oppression and their human cost.

5:41 Racism as a Brand Strategy
Ohe of the lifelong educator´s most intriguing contentions is her framing of racism and discrimination as a vehicle for capitalism. The United States prison system, by far the world´s most extensive, has repeatedly displayed a bias against minorities, and it is through the products and services generated by prison labor that many of the nation´s largest corporations are able to increase their profit margins and bolster their empires.

9:42 Weaponizing Race
¨Divide and conquer¨ is a strategy as old as the printed word, and so ignorance can be a valuable tool in the hands of a party motivated to manipulate. In Elliott´s view, the racially charged issues that pry at the foundation of the American public in 2020 are systemic in nature, and driven by narratives of division. She points to a lack of relevant education as a key obstacle to the progress of race relations, and highlights the role that the idea of American exceptionalist identity plays in driving a wedge between members of society.

18:53 The Illusion of Progress?
With the status of Confederate and other controversial monuments under intense recent debate, Elliott warns of the dangers of losing sight of larger goals while celebrating small victories. While statues and flags can be taken down, the underlying support for what these symbols represent are the most enduring and dangerous element of their existence. Among her more tangible concerns are white nationalists in the military, commitment of educational resources, and more honest evaluations of American history´s uglier chapters.

45:09 White Allies Matter
While it is important for allies not to center themselves in minority empowerment movements such as BLM, allies make up valuable members of any coalition. Awareness of language is important. Elliott recounts many instances of hearing well-meaning allies say things like ¨I don´t see color,¨ a phrase she finds problematic as this can also mean the viewer does not see distinct experiences. Instead, she advises allies to acknowledge that there is simply no way to truly relate to the struggles people of color face while still demonstrating their support.

57:00 Defunding and Deprogramming
Public sentiment is growing in favor of diverting resources away from traditional armed policing toward community building solutions, an approach Elliott enthusiastically endorses in the form of reeducation programs and diversity training. Racism, both within police departments and in wider society, is endemic throughout the United States, and its ripple effects contribute to many of our most pressing civil concerns.

59:23 An Educated Human Family 
With geneticists widely in agreement that every member of the modern human race shares a common ancestry, the inescapable truth is that we are all cousins. Elliott uses this reality to undermine white supremacist ideology both in her educational career and in her advocacy work. After more than half a century in her field, Jane Elliott is still working to prove that the only lasting remedy for ignorance and the fear it creates is a lifetime of education.

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