Guest Post: Why Does Pigment Dominate Pride in Our Shared Humanity?

By Dr. Philip Zimbardo, © 2020 Professor Emeritus, Stanford University and Past President of the American Psychological Association

Editorial Note: Professor Zimbardo is one of the most important psychologists of our time. He is an early stage supporter of my work in violence prevention and mental health promotion. We met in 2006 when I was a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University. He immediately understood the scope of my work and is one of my most steadfast supporters. Please share his essay widely, as it offers important insights regarding matters of discrimination.

Why does it matter what the color of our skin is?

Why does it matter what the color of our eyes are?

Why does it matter what the color of our hair is?

These are each external characteristics that vary widely among people from different nations.

Should any of them matter more than our intelligence, our morality, our compassion, or our wonder and delight at our common human nature?

This question obviously contrasts the core of our Inner Being with physical elements of our external being, that are used too often, and wrongly, as social constructions of our self-worth.

Our list could readily be expanded to include what differences does our height or weight matter, or size of our nose really matter?

All of these facial and bodily characteristics mattered very much to the Nazi Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, in his vision of Germany as the perfect Aryan nation, filled with blue-eyed blondes with petite noses! Those external features were characteristic of Nazis as the superior race who had the right to dominate and destroy everyone in every nation that was inferior to those in his Third Reich. Nazi propaganda visualized these mythical perfect Hitler youth as contrasted with dark skin, big nosed Jews—as the enemy—to be destroyed.


April 4, 1968: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered by a white gunman in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots of protest rock America. Chicago’s Mayor Daly orders police to “shoot to kill.”

April 5, 1968:  Mrs. Jane Elliott, a 3rd grade elementary school teacher in the farming town of Riceville, Iowa, population of about 850, all white, all Christian, is preparing her class exercise on Brotherhood. She plans to focus on the plight of Native Americans. But changes her mind and her lesson as she reflects on the significance of Rev. King’s murder. She wonders how she could teach her beloved 28 students to experience personally the power of arbitrary discrimination. Mrs. Elliott choose “eye color” as her demonic device.

She informs the class that she has just learned that brown-eyed people are inferior to blue-eyed people and gives a number of examples to validate that distinction.  Then she adds action consequences, such as brown-eyed children have to wear collars, to be put on by their classmates with blue eyes, so they will be more distinguishable. They are forced to sit at desks in the back of the class, and they must also not go to lunch until the blue-eyed, superior children have finished.

Amazingly, these children who had grown up knowing each other very well from earlier classes and family contacts, immediately began to be hostile toward their now “inferior” buddies and playmates. They abused them with derogatory accusations and in physical confrontations. “It was the worst day in my life”, a crying Brown Eye girl proclaimed.

But it got better for her the next day when Mrs. Elliott explained that she had made a mistake; that it was blue eyes who were inferior and brown eyes who were superior.

Did the suffering of the brown eyes on the previous day create a tolerance for their blue-eyed buddies? NOT AT ALL!

Arbitrary discrimination reared its ugliness as they immediately gave what they had gotten—angry abuse at classmates who now were clearly inferior and deserved to be punished for having the wrong eye color.

Mrs. Elliott’s brilliant demonstration of the ease and rapidity of arbitrary discrimination inflicting all in its sphere of influence –

like our current Covid-19 Pandemic is inflicting millions globally with its deadly new virus—

is even more significant now in 2020 than it was nearly 40 years ago.

Please view the powerful documentary of this class exercise in prejudice, A Class Divided, on PBS.Org, a Frontline drama.

All links are included in the post below.

An updated postscript.

Immediately after I became aware of her powerful social psychological experiment, I invited Jane to share her brilliant insights with my Stanford University students and faculty.

Jane Elliott has gone on in her new career as “Discrimination Awareness Warden” with adults from various backgrounds and careers. She demonstrates the ease and rapidity with which discrimination dominates common sense based on any random arbitrary physical characteristic, such as if you can curl your tongue or not. Those who can are the Superior Class, those who can’t obviously belong to the Inferior Class.

To see more about this now 87 year- old dynamo in action view her via these following links.

Here Jane Elliott is talking with Jimmy Fallon recently

(note her sweatshirt proclaiming:


All links are included in the post below.

And check out a recent Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes experiment Jane did in Britain.

All links are included in the post below.

And here is a powerful documentary about her life’s mission.

All links are included in the post below.

Thanks for your caring concern now and forever more in our uncertain future.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s