'Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes’ exercise aims to teach what racism feels like

Exercise aims to teach what racism feels like

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - How racist are you?

While most people would probably say they are not racist, some comments or behaviors could still be insensitive or hurtful to others.

‘Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes’ is an exercise that originated in the 1960’s and is still helping to make some people more self-aware.

It’s an attempt to show people who have never been victims of racism what it’s like.

Joe Johnson of Lake Charles is a tolerance and diversity educator.

“If you’ve ever touched a hot pot on the stove, you know if you touch it again, it’s going to burn," Johnson said. "People who’ve never touched a hot pot, they understand that it’s hot, but they just don’t quite get it until they’ve touched that hot pot on the stove.”

Johnson recently put together a group to tackle the exercise at a local library. Volunteers are segregated not by skin color or ethnicity, but by eye color.

For the exercise, those with brown eyes are superior. Those with blue eyes are discriminated against.

While this exercise is not as extreme as others around the world, it did get participants talking.

“Right now, in our country, we just have so many divides and so many polar divides. And so, I think that this can enlighten people on the subtleties," Chantal Landry-Iles, a participant, said. “I think people can identify absolute ‘in your face’ racism, but the subtleties. It can enlighten people on those subtleties. And so, we can combat it.”

Sociology major Natalie Lawton says the exercise shows how the mere idea that we're different can cause division.

“There wasn’t anything that was even real," Lawton said. “It was a difference of an eye color. It’s nothing. It’s a genetic variation. That’s it. But, it was still enough for those kids to get oppositional with each other. And she did that in the first place. They were fine before she told them they had a reason not to like each other. And I think it’s important to focus on what we have in common.”

The idea is to help people better understand each other.

“People who participated in this exercise are four times less likely to participate in discrimination or discriminative behaviors and twice as likely to stand up to someone who is showing discriminative behaviors, or standup for the person being discriminated against,” said Johnson.

Johnson says those who discriminate can change.

“Discrimination is ignorance; pure and simple. Ignorance is a learned behavior and just like any behavior can be unlearned. And that’s what we’re going to try and do here,” Johnson said.

The way Johnson puts it, there’s only one race: the human race. He hopes education will allow more people to see it that way.

For more information on the blue eyes-brown eyes exercise check the links in this story.

If someone would like their group to participate in the exercise, contact Johnson at 337-602-8453.

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