This Exercise focuses on discrimination experience. Based on the colour of the eyes of the participants, youth (14 and above) get an insight into discrimatory realities in society. Suited for all youth work settings.
- to recreate a micro-society (atmosphere, dynamics and relationships) as similar as possible to „real society“ in order to work on the topic of discrimination
- to reproduce relationships between different social groups (present in real society) in the controlled environment of a classroom
- to give students the opportunity to experience discrimination based on personal characteristics
- to analyse and reflect the happenings, processes, relationships and feelings experienced within the dynamics of the activity
- to gain knowledge, skills, competences, tools and methods to overcome discrimination
- to encourage students to transfer the knowledge gained in the workshop into their daily life
- paper, pens, stickers for name badges of different quality (high quality for the brown-eyed, poor quality for the blue eyed)
- badges or scarfs for the blue-eyed people
- flipchart, markers
- computer, projector, screen
- PowerPoint Presentation (see annex)
- Learn as much as possible about the Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed exercise methodology (see further tips and resources below)
- Watch Jane Elliot’s documentaries (e.g. Blue Eyed, Eye of the Storm, A Class Divided, The Angry Eye, How racist are you? etc.) on discrimination exercises.
- Be aware that this exercise is not appropriate for children younger than 14 (unless you have professional knowledge in educational science).
- Familiarise yourself with the topic and be aware that this activity needs a lot of acting by the teacher (in the first phase) and then in the debriefing. Also a lot of empathy and enough time are necessary.
- Prepare a short quiz for step 6.
- Prepare the waiting room: one smaller room with not enough chairs to sit for all or no chairs at all.
- Prepare one large room for the main part of the exercise:
- Place the tables in the room on the side and the chairs in a semicircle.
- Place one table with the chair aside near the entrance door (for the registration process).
- Start the PPT with the projection of a blue eye.
- Lower the lighting; create a cold, alienated, unfriendly atmosphere.
- Prepare yourself for the role of the discriminator:
- Your goal is to recreate an atmosphere of oppression.
- You should be dressed in black.
- You should be serious, do not smile.
- You should be cold, detached from the participants and focused on the goal to perform the exercise.
- You should speak in a strict way.
- You should use discriminatory sentences from real life discrimination on diverse grounds and adapt them for the circumstances of the blue/brown eyed, e.g.:
- You should be prepared to discriminate negatively blue eyed participants and discriminate positively the brown eyed.
- You should not exaggerate in the role of the oppressor/discriminator, but at the same time don’t be soft.
- You should prepare yourself for reactions, e.g.:
- If someone wants to leave the experiment, explain that he/she can escape from the exercise, but in real life one cannot escape discrimination.
- Use a possible rebellion or negative reactions from the blue eyed to further discriminate them, e.g. „Blue eyed usually disrupt the education process, as you can see from the behaviour of XY.“
- If you are blue eyed and someone notices it, explain that you were raised in a pure brown eyed family and you were trained to behave like a brown eyed person.
- When blue eyed persons give you the correct answer to your question, do not congratulate them but either ignore them or try to ridicule them (ask them if they have cheated or if they were raised in a brown eyed family); on the other hand give a lot of credit to brown eyed persons when they answer correctly.
- Discipline blue eyed persons when they try to rebel or to build an alliance among them by changing their places.
- Discipline brown eyed persons when they try to help blue eyed by transforming them in blue eyed.
- Do not be afraid to use all your knowledge about the discriminatory language you have learned by the majority in real life.
- Be prepared to stop the exercise if the emotions get too high or you realise that participants are not bearing the social experiment.
- Ask trainers who have performed the exercise to give you more instructions and tips.
Step by step description
- Step 1: The students are divided into two groups according to the colour of their eyes. Brown-eyed persons are asked to stay in the room and to sit on the prearranged chairs. Blue-eyed persons need to go outside for a „short“ period of time and wait there. They are instructed to be quiet, are not allowed to sit down and have to stay in the so called „blue-eyed zone“ (if possible the prearranged waiting room). Blue-eyed persons are instructed to wear special „blue eye“ badges (or scarfs) and to stay in a line in complete silence.
- Step 2: While the blue-eyed group is waiting outside for the next 20-30 minutes some general instructions for the activity are given to the brown-eyed group. Depending on the level of knowledge, give the students a short input on human rights or use the time for a discussion on some special human rights issues.
- Step 3: After 20-30 minutes the blue-eyed persons are asked to come back to the room and to sit on the floor surrounded by the brown-eyed persons sitting on their chairs. The brown-eyed have been instructed before not to allow the blue-eyed to sit on the empty chairs. All participants are given name badges, paper and pencils, but the blue-eyed receive material of really bad quality.
- Step 4: Then present by power point (or with a flipchart) a short summary of fictional “scientific findings” about blue-eyed people. The findings claim that according to recent discoveries blue-eyed people, when compared with brown-eyed, are clearly and significantly underdeveloped.
- Step 5: Make a short break applying the following rules: the blue-eyed people’s break is 5 minutes shorter and they are allowed to take only one drink. The blue-eyed are not allowed to talk with the brown-eyed.
- Step 6: After the break play a short quiz with your students (prepare some questions in advance), but manipulate the results in a way that the blue-eyed are losing whatever they are doing.
- Step 7: Then start explaining to the participants that the game you are just playing is a social experiment. All data, studies, researches, scientists, analyses, surveys, theories, information … all they have heard during the social experiment was invented, distorted and manipulated for the aims of the activity. There is no „blue-eyed/brown-eyed distinction“ – the colour of the eyes does not matter at all! Ask the blue-eyed participants to stand up, to throw away the „blue-eyed“ badge or scarf and to join the others and sit on the chairs. „The game is over. We are all friends again!“ – a non-discriminatory environment is rebuilt. You can show the participants a short YouTube video by Jane Elliot.
- Step 8: Allow enough time for an intensive in-depth discussion, analysis, debriefing and evaluation of the social experiment (roles, feelings, reactions, relationships…).
Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing
Set up the rule that whatever is said during the debriefing is not meant as criticism how somebody reacted to the challenges of the social experiment, but only to analyse how discrimination affects us all and what we can learn from this experience. Explain that all the reactions, feelings, behaviour during the main part of the activity (the experiment) are legitimate and no one should judge anyone on how he/she reacted.
Make sure everyone has exited from the social experiment mood. You can use a simple exercise to allow persons „to step out of the role“, e.g. take a bright coloured scarf and ask each participant to go through the scarf which will clean him/her from the frustration of the experiment. Explain that when the scarf will pass over his/her head, he/she will be liberated and again himself/herself as prior to the social experiment.
- How did you feel during the game?
- How did you feel as a negatively discriminated person?
- How did you feel as a positively discriminated person?
- What did you notice about the behaviour of the participants in the two groups?
- Which signs of frustration of the discriminated group did you notice?
- Did you also notice signs of frustration of the non-discriminated group?
- How was the dynamic in your group? What were you talking about?
- Have you tried to oppose to the discrimination? If not, why?
- Why have you as participants of the non-discriminated group tolerated the discrimination of your classmates?
- Why haven’t you supported the discriminated group?
- Are there similar mechanisms in real society?
- How do we react in everyday life?
- Why do we feel that discrimination based on the colour of the eyes is absurd, but are not surprised if people are discriminated because of the colour of their skin or other reasons?
- What could or should be done to prevent discrimination in everyday life?
Make sure everyone has understood the aims and the significance of the exercise.
Suggestions for adaptations and variations
- Skip the quiz and show instead a longer documentary about the blue-eyed /brown-eyed exercise prior debriefing.
- You could give three students the role of observers. They will not be involved in the experiment; instead their task will be to observe and to give a strong input during the debriefing about what they have noticed.
- Present the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its main message.
- Let the students find out whether which anti-discrimination laws exist in your country.
Reference / original source of the method
This simulation is is an adaptation of the famous „Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes“ exercise of Jane Elliott. The activity has been rearranged for the purposes of aces students and teachers by Mitja Blažič who facilitated the activity during his workshops with the same title – „How Does the Colour of the Eyes Matter?“ during the aces Kick-Off Meeting 2010 in Senec and 2013 in Bucharest. He also developed the PowerPoint Presentation in the annex.
Further tips and resources
- Jane Elliott’s „Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes“ exercise: www.janeelliott.com
- Teacher’s guide etc.: www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided
- Jane Elliott on YouTube: various film material
Annex: PowerPoint Presentation on fictional „scientific findings“