Columns / Discourse / October 3, 2018

The F-Word: Jane Elliott needs to modify her “anti”-racism

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, I attended a lecture by Jane Elliott at Monmouth College. Jane Elliott is a former elementary school educator who is famous for her blue-eyed vs. brown-eyed experiment in teaching racial oppression and tolerance to her students. Jane Elliott is a white woman who is greatly celebrated for her radical, anti-racist progressivism. Her positive public image made me even more excited to meet her and listen to her. However, almost as soon as her lecture started, I knew that Jane Elliott needed to do better.

Elliott started her lecture by expressing her disappointment of the current news cycle around Kavanaugh. She called abusive men (including the President) “boys,” completely negating the fact that toxic masculinity rewards men for being abusive. There is nothing more manly than playing right into the patriarchy. Calling abusive men boys, lets boys be boys. It also wrongfully states that “mature” adult men are somehow incapable of abuse. She continued by calling for the women in the audience to “stop playing defense and start playing offense.” Elliott went as far as to say that women needed to stop letting men abuse them. Using classic sexism, Elliott indirectly singled out every single survivor in the audience and placed the blame and burden of their assault on them. She moved on with an attempt to empower the women in the audience. She said that women were special and could do things men could never do. “Have you ever seen a man give birth?” she asked. A student said, “Yes, a trans man.” Elliott looked at the responder and sighed, “I said man, not a female,” she continued, “That man was a female first.” In under 30 minutes, Jane Elliott had managed to victim-blame and be transphobic. Later on she kept making ableist “jokes” and calling the president “handicapped.” For someone who sure loves to talk about empathy, learning and acceptance, Elliott did not have any for queer folk, disabled people or survivors of abuse/assault.

Besides all of the problematic behaviors for which she refused to stand accountable, once Elliott dove into the conversation of race, it became obvious that her ignorance was much deeper than the use of questionable exclamations. A big part of Elliott’s advocacy for racial equality rested on her thoughts about the origins of humans. There is no doubt that human life originated from Africa and specifically Black people. However, to want to go back to this concept as the defining unifier of human beings today, ignored the atrocities that white people have committed against everyone else. It ignores the current struggles of people of color, specifically Black folk, by implying that if we are all from Africa, then white people can somehow understand the struggles of Black people. Elliott said we are all a part of the only race, the human race. Following that, she told us the story of the African origins of human life and added that we are all a part of one race, the black race. We are all African. We are all Black. Or at least that is what Jane Elliott told an audience without clarifying how these claims enable white entitlement and privilege while erasing the struggles of people of color.

On the socialization of race, Elliott said that no child is born a racist and that white children are socialized to become racists in their early teenhood. This is inaccurate at best. White people are born and raised in a society that favors whiteness. Whether they like or know it, white people have subconscious biases on race. They are not socialized in their teens; they are socialized their whole lives.

Elliott also perpetuated some very common forms of anti-Blackness. At one point, she called on the white people in the audience to “get over it.” With the thinning of the ozone layer, Jane mentioned that “whites should marry blacks” if they want to have strong offspring with lower risk of skin cancer. White people have historically objectified bodies of color, especially Black bodies, for their “superior physique.” On top of that, mixed-race children are highly sexualized in today’s world and Elliott fell right into that gear.

I want to be fair. Perhaps 50 years ago, Jane Elliott’s ideas were groundbreaking for her small white town. And for 50 years, Elliott has been playing and replaying the same exact script. And we have loved her for it. Elliott stayed in the safety of her privilege, while getting immense recognition for doing way less than many leaders and educators of color did way before her. Jane Elliott is the embodiment of white people getting praised for doing the bare minimum rather terribly. Elliott has not grown through and within her work and her age is not an excuse. There are plenty of older thinkers who learn and adapt every single day. The public praise of Elliott has done her a disservice by telling her that what she is doing worked 50 years ago so it must work now. In her lecture, Elliott mocked white people who claim to not be racist because they “have Black friends” yet she failed to recognize how ironic it is that she gets a pass — or gives herself one — for her transphobia, victim-blaming, ableism and outdated racial “progressivism” just because she would not have minded having Black friends 50 years ago.

 

Eden Sarkisian, Discourse Editor
Eden Sarkisian ‘19 was Discourse Editor for The Knox Student from May 2017 to June 2019.

Tags:  F-Word feminism jane elliott white privilege

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26 Comments

Oct 15, 2018

Eden Sarkisian
I simply want to address your needless critique. If you remained open minded and without an agenda you would have, 1st listened and 2nd understood.
Ms Elliott never blamed the victims for their assaults. The point simply was no matter what it may have entailed if they didn’t address it legally, they simply empowered their abusers. If you don’t see, hear and understand the 45th is handicapped , then YOU are as delusional as his supporters and him. Ms Elliots common theme is if you know something is WRONG and YOU encourage it or do nothing about it , you are empowering it.
Any and all un-admitted racists are still racists . as far phobias go , i think your real point was to attempt to tear down what points Ms Elliott wanted to make , simply because she is an older white woman… If you really cared about people of color you would be thankful or her addressing the issue in the absence of the so called CHRISTIAN AMERICANS OF THIS COUNTRY WHO DO NOTHING.. WHO ARE REALLY NOTHING MORE THAN CLOSET RACISTS
On the subject of physiques , historically slave owners bred the strongest males and females. It is no accident that athletically PEOPLE OF COLOR traditionally are better. I COMPLETELY disagree with your hyper sexualization of mixed race people. In FACT , the fallacy of hyper sexualization of black men has been perpetuated by whites since forever.


    Nov 17, 2018

    Ray,
    You just made most of her points for her.


Nov 17, 2018

Eden,
Thanks for this insightful perspective. I’m rereading.
JenMoon


Nov 24, 2018

This irony is delicious. You always eat your own. To think that this sadistic grwmlin will eventually be taken down and repudiated by her own fills me with Glee.
Nothing is ever good enough and allowances are never made for any consideration. It must be a horrible feeling knowing that the ground you stand on can open up into a chasm and swallow you whole when the next change in social justice fads occurs. You all deserve it. Step carefully.


    Dec 10, 2019

    What you call the left eating itself is what is known as accountability. People on the right should try it some time, rather than rallying around lies and deceit.


Jan 12, 2019

Why are the words “femme” and the possessive plural “their” used in describing this one woman named Eden?
(And, please, no inflammatory words or response. Thank you.)


May 13, 2019

I recently watched an exercise performed by Jane Elliot in which she separated blue eyed people from brown eyed people in an attempt to have the “blue-eyed people” understand racism. Right off the bat, the main principle and the basis of her experiment falls into the same type of marginalization of people that she is attempting to teach. Because she figures that there will almost be no chance that a black person will be in the blue-eyed group that she plans to discriminate against and teach a lesson. She is immediately playing into the stereotypes and marginalization that she claims to be against. This discredits the entire experiment from that point forward. However, to be fair, I continued to watch with an open mind. As the original post mentions, Jane Elliot continues to perpetuate and marginalize white people with the idea that they are never discriminated against and that racism only exists when white people are the only people who can exhibit racism. I don’t only disagree with this whole heartedly but it is absolutely untrue. She has been doing this experiment for over 50 years and it is obviously wildly outdated. She marginalizes white men in power but not black men. Jane Elliot herself even says that if you are white you must be racist. This is a very contradictory experiment that must have seemed progressive for the 1960’s when she was a teacher. However, the experiment does not work anymore because society has moved way past her out-dated conventional racist ways of thinking. Jane Elliot herself recognizes this and has since stopped conducting the experiment between blue eyes and brown eyed people. The people who praise her for this way of thinking and teaching are perpetuating this racism and the experiment has the opposite of the intended effect without these people noticing it. Whether their skin color is black white or green.


May 23, 2019

We are f*cked. 50 years ago, we were f*cked because of the racists that Jane Elliot rallied against, but now we’re f*cked because of the very same racists AND we are doubly f*cked because of the self-eating machine that has become their opposition. We need to start giving one another, at least on OUR side, to start… the benefit of the doubt. If a new Martin Luther King Jr. emerged now, and gained a platform, and had everyone’s ear, and began a speech that was so inspirational that it could change the outcome of history for a nation, with “Ladies and gentlemen….” there would be people who run to their blogs, and twitters etc.. to be the first to tell everyone that the speech excluded xims, and xers, and non-binarys and this and that, and while they were typing away and ignoring the CONTENT of the CHARACTER, for surface issues (sound familiar?) never once considering that maybe, just maybe, language did not quite perfectly capture every nuance of every person’s agenda, while not actually excluding anyone. The very title of this,” Jane Elliot needs to…” can be stopped right there. Jane Elliot doesn’t need to do a damn thing but relax and enjoy her old age. You wouldn’t have this platform if it wasn’t for people like her. But she is still out there fighting, and inspiring, and defying the strong resurgence of what she probably thought her generation would never possibly have to deal with again. And now she has people on her own side tearing her down for being outdated? Uninclusive? Do you have any idea of the risks she took for her stance 50 years ago? It is unreal.

While you, and many others are reading this and scanning for where I messed up, maybe said the wrong thing so they can have their “gotcha” moment, I’ll be as transparent as humanly possible. I’m a white, middle-ish class, privileged enough to make a living as an artist, he/him/his, cis, father of two children under three years old who are more than welcome to identify as they see fit when they come into their own. My wife is a teacher in a rough city neighborhood. I SOB when I watch the blue/eyes brown eyes experiment unfold, simply at Jane’s ability to connect to these small town white kids, when my own wife can’t for the life of her convince hispanic middle school children to stop calling each other the N word, much less take pride in themselves and celebrate their differences as well as their shared humanity. I spend time every single day in my own head, breaking prejudices, fighting against ingrained stereotypes to become a better person.

You know who gives me the least grief? The people I grew up with, who are still mired in these outdated beliefs. People who get drunk and tell me that Trump is going to save us from a race war. People who think Muslims are here under a grand conspiracy to enforce Sharia law on all of us. From them, I get the occasional joke about how I’m a libtard, or a snowflake, and me and Bernie can go make out on a Pride float. Not too hard to deal with. Sticks and stones…

The most, by far, grief I’ve ever gotten is from people like you, and some of these commenters. People who probably vote exactly the same way I do on election Tuesday (if they even bother to actually peel themselves away from the internet to vote) Not because of a difference of opinion, but because of a not exactly perfect expression of the SAME OPINION that they hold. And it’s not a joke thrown my way, it’s a full-on attack. I’ve been called sexist for griping about Bernie Sanders being obviously railroaded out of the Democratic nomination by the clearly more powerful and privileged Hillary Clinton. I’ve been told angrily by 30 year old white women that my preference for Lauryn Hill to Beyonce is proof that I’m both sexist and racist for even having the inclination that I had a right (as a professional musician) to express an opinion on something that “isn’t for me”, while at the same time being able to smoke a joint with black friends and discuss, without issue, the drum sounds on each of their records. People who just want to make sure they’re clearly seen as the keepers of the high road, no matter whether reality supports their claims. Virtue signalers. I’m literally afraid to say what I feel in certain contexts, because of my whiteness, cis-ness, and fully acknowledged privilege, not because of some oppressive opposing force, but because of the intolerance of my own people, those who would and should rally behind the Jane Elliots of the world instead of tearing them down for not batting a perfect 1.000% despite their best efforts and monumental acheivements. We have to do better. We have to stop fighting each other. The stakes are too high for anything else.


    Apr 23, 2020

    When I think benefit of the doubt, I think of grace. That and some solidarity is what is needed.


      Jun 05, 2020

      Thank you, Scott. Much grace is needed for meaningful change to take place.


    Jun 03, 2020

    This is really well put Matt. Good on you, it’s good to hear a rational voice brave enough to speak truthfully from their perspective.
    From a fellow musician in London x


    Jun 03, 2020

    Right on Matt!

    And this is from a black woman in the Gen X category. This is the problem with Millenials and Gen Z, if anything isn’t EXACTLY to their liking to the t, then just throw the whole damn thing away. In the real world, you don’t get everything exactly how you want it. You learn to make choices and exceptions to you can accept.


    Jun 05, 2020

    Matt, Thank you so much for your comments. I see this time and time again. It breaks my heart. If feels like there is this one-up-man-ship especially with younger activists. Yes, virtue signalers. Heavy sigh. I am not saying that there are some problematic things, we ALL have problematic constructs and views that we work through, but I would hope that does not diminish the good work that is done, the sacrifices made even in our ignorance and privilege, and feeble efforts. There is a place to call one another to our blind spots and I hope that we can do that with one another in a spirit of reconciliation, empathy, and collaboration, instead of marking the righteousness of how we are more woke than the previous generation. It can never be about perfect, nothing in the human experience relates to the concept of perfection, but we can fail and get up and learn and enter again into the breach of injustice and to bring social justice.


    Jun 06, 2020

    Just finished reading your post,
    Thank you for taking time and be so connected, compassionate in your words!!!

    Inspiring
    Have a lovely day


Sep 05, 2019

I think you’re being a bit ignorant and demanding for multiple reasons. This woman is 86 years old from the mid-west and has been an activist her entire life. She has advocated for equality for a race she is not a part of and has steadfastly done so for the vast majority of her life. At 86 years old, what exactly are you asking her to “do better” in? Concepts like toxic masculinity and concepts of what you think is socially acceptable are frankly not her torch to bear. You are asking her to be a jack of all trades; being aware of 100 different angles of privilege, across multiple spans of demographics simply because “some people” were able to consistently adapt and update their thinking? Nevermind that that argument doesn’t work because that is not the norm, but what is more irritating, is that you refuse to appreciate the fact that she laid an amazing foundation for generations to come and has been a steadfast advocate for people of color for essentially her entire life. You downplayed every achievement this woman ever achieved, opting instead to demonize and cluck about every faux pas you perceived her to have made.

Let’s look at the allegation of being transphobic. Transphobic? A Phobia is an unreasonable, intense fear of a person, object or concept. Her statements were not transphobic. Transgenderisim refers to one’s gender, not their sex. She asked have you ever seen a man give birth, Trans men are biological women. Nothing can change that. So she was right to say what she said, you are being hypersensitive and honestly intolerant to an opposing viewpoint. This again is part of the problem, you frequently acknowledge that she was trying to be empowering, yet every attempt chaffed you. What did she say that you liked? What did you take away that was good?

Jane Elliot is a human being, she is not perfect, complaints like yours are counterproductive to the cause. Why harp on the perspective of an old woman when you can take to task far younger, more damaging narratives from more “visible” people. This is basically just a long-winded complaint that does little to acknowledge the good this woman did. As a woman of color, I am disgusted with you. You use the privilege of your more “enlightened” education and contemporary viewpoints to berate and complain about everything this woman said. This article does not explore what she had to offer as an academic or provide an academic perspective of where her viewpoints provide merit, be it in a historical or contemporary context. If you truly felt she had none to offer, then you should have just said nothing at all. It is you who needs to do better, not Jane Elliot.

I don’t care if this doesn’t make it past the censorship, you need you to know what you said was mean spirited, counterproductive, and hypersensitive, lacking every drop of academic merit and I hate that I read a single word.

Do better, Be better.


    Dec 10, 2019

    It’s transphobia, pure and simple, and no amount of arguing and dancing around what Elliot said is going to change that. Trans men are men. Men can give birth. Men menstruate. Men use pads. Get over yourself and don’t repeat the same mistakes that previous generations did with their bigotry and hatred towards diversity. None of this erases Elliot’s previous good work on raising awareness of racism, but her comments on trans people and other minorities does show she’s dropped the ball and is stuck in a previous era. Elliot is indeed human and fallible, but how you turn that around and make her mistake the mistake of the minority groups she dismisses is beyond me. Talk about blaming the victim. Grow up.


      Jun 03, 2020

      So if I prefer soy ice cream to dairy ice cream does that mean I dairy phobic? No I just have a choice. No matter what you may think soy ice cream ain’t dairy. It might look like ice cream, it might taste like ice cream but it is still soy! Because the definition of ice cream is a “soft frozen food made with sweetened and flavored milk fat”.

      Trans men can change their license, give a masculine appearance, etc but biologically they are women.

      And this is someone who lived with gay men, have trans men and women friends and they will even say I’m a Man or Woman but biologically I’m male or female. But honestly we don’t sit around and have these conversations because it ain’t that deep with the


    Jun 03, 2020

    I just want to say that reading through this entire column twice, I am humbled by the mostly intellectual thought processes articulated. I am over 60 and I tuned into Ms. Elliott’s teachings after Big Mike recommended her. My first impression was how dated her material sounded. Additionally, it seemed she anticipated impressed responses like those she may have received decades ago. I wonder if she has updated her offering to exclude her own prejudices and assumptions in order to impact a difference in 2020.


    Jun 03, 2020

    Ka’isha,

    I agree with your entire post 100%.


Oct 05, 2019

I just saw Jane Elliott appear with Jada Pinkett Smith. I am old enough to recall the blue-eyes experiment. What I want to say is I appreciated reading this opinion about Elliott. I wanted an honest opinion, not an academic paper.

Elliott struck me as a loud, threatening, tone-deaf bully, and she admits she terrorises her audiences, so they can feel what the Black Community feels every day. But she also seemed like a nutjob. That’s my opinion. 🙂

I’m a proud mixed old man, whose mom was Jewish and whose dad was Black. I’m whiter than my mom, so I guess I really should just shut the hell up.

But I thank you for your opinions about this woman.


    Jun 10, 2020

    ” I’m whiter than my mom, so I guess I really should just shut the hell up.”

    No Geo, In spite of what racists believe, there is no relation between brain activity and skin-color. Thank you for sharing your opinion.


Jun 08, 2020

Thank you Matt. This entire critique was nauseating and made my eyes roll into the back of my head.


Jun 10, 2020

You’re not helping Eden .


Jun 10, 2020

Correction ..
You’re not helping ,Eden .


Jun 16, 2020

YES! 100% agree with this entire post. Thank you for this refreshing take. I’m in the field of Ed psyc and everyone sings her praises. A.) her “experiment” would be unethical today, and B.) she’s still riding the coat tails of her glory 50 years ago. More than anything though, her “empowerment” of women means bullying them, and LGBTQ issues? Well, your post says it all.



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