The Official Biography of Jane Elliott and the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Exercise
What if, by eight years old, children could possess the mechanism to disrupt prejudicial tendencies? That is an argument posited by Jane Elliott for more than five decades. She initially made the claim the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.—first with elementary school students in Riceville, Iowa, then with adults in seminar rooms full of corporate, correctional, educational, and military personnel. Elliott is famous for placing learners of all ages into a manufactured society of hate, oppression, and in-group synchrony. In Shades of Brown, historian Todd M. Mealy offers a fascinating, never-before-told reconstruction of Elliott’s life as a child on a Depression-era farm in Iowa to her rise as one of the world’s leading voices on the anatomy of prejudice.
Loved and despised by millions, this schoolteacher invested most of her life trying to expose the root cause of bigotry: ignorance. Racism is not new. It will likely never end. However, in 1968, Elliott discovered a method to mitigate racist inclinations. She calls it the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise,” a controversial role-play on discrimination that separates learners by the color of their eyes. Elliott contends that a short period of discomfort and alienation will teach her central lesson that we are one race.
Based on rarely tapped sources, especially never discovered family documents, Shades of Brown offers the full context of the origin, use, and implications of the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
In an era of unprecedented challenges to societal change, Todd Mealy's captivating biography of Jane Elliott provides insights into her long advocacy for challenging racial bigotry in all its forms as inspired by the work of my father, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which encompassed eradicating what he called "the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism." Mealy’s narrative reconstructs a comprehensive and nuanced portrayal of Jane Elliott’s courageous journey in the struggle for social justice and as an anatomy of prejudice. “Shades of Brown” offers an insightful critique and is a must read that resonates with the urgency of our times to overcome racial bias, prejudice, bigotry, and work toward the ultimate elimination of racism which is essential in creating the Beloved Community.—Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO, The King Center
In Shades of Brown, author Todd M. Mealy invites readers into the extraordinary life and transformative work of esteemed educator Jane Elliott. From her groundbreaking "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise to her tireless advocacy for equality and justice, Elliott's story is a testament to the power of one person's unwavering dedication to dismantling racial prejudice. Mealy's intimate portrait delves into the personal and professional experiences that shaped Elliott's journey, revealing the challenges she faced and the triumphs she achieved along the way. Through a captivating narrative, readers gain profound insights into the spirit and lasting impact of a true trailblazer who continues to inspire generations.—Keith A. Beauchamp, Filmmaker, Producer/Writer Till
When I think about Jane Elliott, I think about a courageous human being who refuses the recursive hubris regarding the so-called rightness of whiteness. In this way, one might assume that the meaning behind Jane Elliott's "blue eyes, brown eyes" experiment on prejudice and discriminatory behavior is easily discernible. Indeed, journalists have covered this controversial lesson plan for many decades. However, in Shades of Brown, Todd M. Mealy once again establishes himself as a skillful and formidable scholar. In this must-read biography, Dr. Mealy puts forth original and engaging ideas about Elliott, her groundbreaking exercise, and the deeply problematic Faustian tendency at the very core of racism, xenophobia, and sexism. With prose akin to that of a guiding beacon, Mealy's work illuminates the intricacies of our shared human condition, urging us to stand in solidarity with those who are subjugated and painfully treated as "less than." Through the powerful genre of biography, this book helps us to understand not just the profound social justice dimensions of Jane Elliott's pedagogy, but it functions as a clarion call, one that sheds light on the unqualified and perpetual need for all of us to resist attempts to stifle critical thinking, social diversity, and what the humanities can offer.—George Yancy, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy, Emory University
by Todd M Mealy
Page Count: 387
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Publish Date: July 25, 2023
Imprint: Oxford Southern
Biography & Autobiography / Women
Education / History
Biography & Autobiography / Social Activists