When you are walking outside, what do you see?

Do you see human beings, peacefully coexisting in what we call ‘society’? Do you see natives, or foreigners? Migrants or tourists? Black or white people? What is the first impression you have when you see these people? And how would they feel about you?

What do you think is the root cause of why we have these impressions?

We all see the world in a specific way. Education and life experience have made us in who we are. And it is that experience that guides us in how we view the world. How we reason. How we interact with others. To help us, we have given our experiences labels. These labels ‘help’ us to decide on how we should act and feel. Labels like: sex, age, sexual orientation, nationality, profession, etc. But do these labels really help us understand? Help us get along? Don’t they make us prejudice?

I guess meme

In 1968, a teacher named Jane Elliot decided to teach her class of all-white 3rd graders a valuable lesson. It was the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered and she knew there was no ‘normal’ way of explaining this to her children. So she decided to do an experiment.

She divided the class into 2 groups, separated based on eye colour; brown or blue. One group was given ‘superiority’ over the other. And to make it easier to recognise from a distance, the kids who were ‘inferior’ were told they needed to wear a collar. The next day the roles were reversed.

This experiment clearly shows 3 things:

  1. Bigotry is taught, no one is born a racist;
  2. Information given by authority figures will be considered as truth;
  3. Administering labels changes our behavior. 

We are teaching children that dualism is a big factor in life. The biggest maybe. Day/night, good/bad, white/black, etc. We are teaching them what is right, what is wrong. What is good behaviour. What bad behaviour looks like. All the things in life that “matter”. And since their main source of information is a figure of authority (parent/teacher/community leader/etc), they will most likely absorb it as truth.

We have to be more aware of what we are teaching our children. We are talking about terms like “us” and “them” and assume kids can figure out on their own what that means. That they will make their own decisions. Well, they won’t. They will practise what has been taught. 

Kids might be smarter than they appear to be, yet they are programmed to follow instructions. If we are teaching the next generation that one is better than another, superior even, they will act accordingly. Racism will always be an issue. We need to be more aware about the power of words (and labels) and more considered about another’s situation. 

You can not say that you understand what another person is going through, unless you have experienced it yourself. Until you walk a mile in their moccasins

WATCH: A Class Divided. DO IT!

This documentary from 1985 highlights the experiences of the 3rd graders and tells a little bit about what happened afterwards. A must see for, well, everybody.

For our Dutch readers, BNN VARA, with the guidance of Seyda Buurman-Kutsal, hosted a similar experiment in the Netherlands. Called: The Great Racism Experiment (Het Grote Racisme Experiment). 

To conclude…

Labels make us prejudice. They make us narrow-minded. And since the majority of people on social platforms like Tinder state that they are “open-minded”, a better world, free from bigotry, lies just behind the horizon.

A better world, where we are kind and respectful to each other. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

“Don’t sneer at the man who is down today. Unless you have felt the same blow. That caused his fall or felt the shame. That only the fallen know.” Mary T. Lathrap