Elliot’s Exercise in Empathy Was Right on Point

Thank you for publishing your recent essay by Stephen G. Bloom, detailing Jane Elliott’s brown-eye/blue-eye exercise (which he incorrectly referred to as an “experiment”). So many of Mr. Bloom’s observations proved how effective Ms. Elliott’s exercise was and continues to be.

In sharing how many people left the exercise feeling disturbed, violated, and confused, it revealed just how insidious racism is to people who experience it firsthand. The people attending her exercise might have felt picked on for a few hours, and have every right to feel upset.

However, the kindness, compassion, and empathy that Bloom is looking for should have come from those very people, at the very moment they realized that people of color, women, LGBT people, and other marginalized minorities go through that experience every single day, often for decades or a lifetime. They constantly feel ridiculed, falsely accused, and manipulated. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are an unbelievable breach of trust and obscene.

If those participants are, 30 years later, still only remembering their own pain and grievances, then it’s not likely that Ms. Elliot or any other educator can impart to them what it takes to generate sufficient empathy and compassion. That is not the fault of Ms. Elliott or her powerful exercise.

Steven Reeder


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