By Claire Dietz
Jane Elliott can make a room laugh.
She spoke Monday night at the Englert, 221 E. Washington St., as a part of the University of Iowa Green Room series. She discussed confronting racism in larger society among other topics, including revising the Golden Rule into what she called “the Platinum Rule.”
Elliott, who is primarily known for her “Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes” exercise, which is described on her website as an activity created “in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. … [It] labels participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the color of their eyes and exposes them to the experience of being a minority.”
She maintains that the exercise is not an experiment “and never was.” It was created for the “purpose of helping children understand how it feels to be judged on the basis of a physical characteristic.”
“Black and brown children have this experience in this country every hour of every day, and no one calls it an ‘experiment,’ ” she said in an email interview with The Daily Iowan. “We call it ‘reality’ and elect people to the presidency on the basis of that ugly kind of judgment. My students had to know more when they left third grade than I and their other teachers did when we left college. Martin Luther King was dead because of that reality.”
Elliott opened her discussion on Monday with a simple quote. “I know something most of you don’t want to admit because you’re white … I know we are in big, big trouble.”
Elliott noted that “we are not in a post-racial society, we weren’t in a post-racial society, we’re more racist when than we were 10 years ago.”
This, to her, was showcased in the election last November.
“Do you remember that we ‘elected’ a racist, sexist, homophobic, ethnocentric person to be our president last November?” she said in the same email interview. “Do you think that is an accident? Do you think that white people are responding to having a black man in the White House for eight years?”
One thing Elliott emphasized repeatedly — after all, she was a third-grade teacher — that the three Rs children are taught need to change. They can no longer be reading, writing, and arithmetic. They must be the three Rs of reason, right, and responsibility.
She became emotional at times because her work was not without its repercussions; her family was ostracized by the community in rural Iowa. But she knew the work she was, and is, doing is important and therefore worth it.
One thing she expounded on was changing the Golden Rule. She decided to call it the “Platinum Rule,” which said people should ask, listen, and, do, forcing people to communicate with others, instead of the Golden Rule, which to her, emphasizes passivity.
She emphasized several rules that she wanted those who attended the talk to take with them and, hopefully, begin to change society at large. There were four rules.
“One: teach the truth, two: the Platinum Rule, not the Golden Rule, three: there is only one race: the human race, four: no one is born a bigot, there is no gene for racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia.”
Elliott said we’re teaching these things here on a daily basis, and that needed to change, now.