cover image Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: A Cautionary Tale of Race and Brutality

Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: A Cautionary Tale of Race and Brutality

Stephen G. Bloom. Univ. of California, $27.95 (284p) ISBN 978-0-520-38226-8

Journalist Bloom (The Audacity of Inez Burns) examines in this intriguing and evenhanded account the “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment” developed by third-grade teacher Jane Elliott in Riceville, Iowa, in 1968. Drawing on interviews with Elliott, Bloom details how she sought, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to demonstrate the impact of racial discrimination in America by separating the children in her all-white classroom by eye color. For two days, she declared the blue-eyed children genetically inferior and instructed brown-eyed students to bully, harass, and subjugate them. Then she reversed the instructions. Though Elliott claims the lesson had the desired effect, the children were noticeably traumatized, and their parents were incensed. She became a pariah in Riceville but rocketed to fame outside of rural Iowa, appearing in an ABC documentary and launching a career as a diversity trainer. Still, many who underwent Elliott’s training accused her of being a “self-righteous” bully. Bloom, who finds no evidence that Elliott’s methods have helped decrease prejudice, concludes that “the only sure result of the experiment is that it gets people angry.” What emerges is a rich and thought-provoking portrait of an unrepentant crusader who “may have failed to consider fully the myriad consequences of her actions.” This immersive account offers a fresh perspective on the enduring struggle against racism. (Oct.)