[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]

The Magenta Project
Against Racism

Compiled by Jennifer Block
From a Report by Dianne Faktor
Pretoria Education Network
South Africa

From May 20, 1996 to June 22, 1996, a boat, named the Zeester, sailed to twenty-five cities in Holland with the goal of informing and educating students about racism.

About 200 students in each city spent a day taking part in workshops and exercises. During the five week boat tour of the Magenta Foundation and School Without Racism, over 3,000 students from twenty-eight high schools and seven grammar schools, ranging from ten to twenty-two years of age, took part in the exercise "Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes."

For this activity, the students were categorized as either blue-eyed or brown-eyed. The brown eyed students were treated as superiors. They were given much more respect and privileges. This allowed both groups to see what prejudice was like first hand. The project is aimed to train people to recognize the conditioning and injustice of discrimination based on a physical characteristic over which one has no control.

This method was developed in 1968 by Jane Elliot, a schoolteacher from Iowa, USA. Jane followed the assumption that racism is a learned "affliction." She began to teach children during classes by dividing them into two groups, brown-eyed and blue-eyed. "People with blue eyes are lazy, rude and more stupid than brown eyed one's" was the reason she gave for this. During Jane's project the blue-eyed's could make themselves better and learn the ways of the brown- eyed's by paying attention and working very hard. If they succeeded, they were allowed to sit at the other end of the class with the brown-eyed students. Jane always used herself as an example, for she had blue eyes.

Magenta decided to produce, together with Jane Elliot, a special version of "Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes." This version was an integral part of the boat-project. Jane Elliot herself, trained the Dutch professionals who carried out the project. At the end of each day during the project, the students went through an evaluation or debriefing, where they discussed what they had gotten out of the day and were given real life discrimination situations to think about. At the end of the evaluation, the students were asked to write in their own words what they learned from "Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes". Most of the students seemed to feel it was a very valuable learning experience. Here are a few of the responses:

"It is true, we see it happen, but we don't do anything; we cooperate, because who is silent, agrees. Only now I have noticed that it is this way. But then the big question stays. What do you do about it? Make a stand as a person and protest against discrimination. That is what should be done, but you don't. Almost nobody does, and that is the problem. Because if all of us did, we could change it."

Barbara, 16 years old, brown eyes

" . . . A racist environment is very easy to create, much more easy than I thought. And the effects for the minority are much worse than I could ever dream of . . . ."

Anna, 15 years old, blue eyes

"Today, I have learned what it is to be seen by others as a minority. I did not expect that it would be so humiliating! In the end, I really had the feeling a bit that I was inferior. I was against racism and discrimination already, but now I understand what it really is."

Aletta, 15 years old, blue eyes

". . . When you have experienced it [discrimination] yourself, you look at it totally differently. Racism is no fun, and you would not like it if you were the person who's discriminated against."

Christian, 12 years old, blue eyes

"I have learned that the only one who can change me is myself because I cannot give myself another eye colour, but I can give myself other opinions. . . ."

Melissa, 12 years old, brown eyes

"When someone is being discriminated you have to oppose this and make a firm stand. So do not only say that you are against it, but also do what you say."

Student, 16 years old, brown eyes

"When you feel day by day what I today as a blue-eye felt (especially in the beginning of the day) then your life is rotten. . . . Racism is so very easy to do. Before you realize it happens. As a person, you are powerless, it makes more sense to revolt together."

Marten, 18 years old, blue eyes

"I think 'the game' today was very good at showing how it is to be part of a minority, although I was a brown-eyed myself (so I did not suffer). Only at the debriefing I realized that I, as a brown eye, had not wanted to make a stand for the blue-eyes. A very good lesson for me was that when it all started, I thought I would do that for sure, but during it all, it never really crossed my mind to do it."

Eline, 17 years old, brown eyes

"I think it was very anti-social how the blue eyed's were treated. As this is how discrimination works, then I think about it differently now."

Tamara, 14 years old, blue eyes

"I was one of the blue-eyes today, and I did not find that funny. I felt greatly discriminated against because we (the blue-eyed's) had to shut our mouth and stand still. The brown eyes were treated well. I really understand that people who are discriminated must feel very angered, like I felt today. It was very much worth it."

Jardena, 16 years old, blue eyes

This project enabled students in Holland and around the world to participate in the project and exchange thoughts on topics such as democracy, freedom and anti-racism. Students were also able to learn about each other's cultures. On the boat, there were two multimedia computers which were hooked up to the internet through a mobile datalink. Every day contact was made with schools by e-mail, chat-sessions, and the special mailing list that was set up for Magenta by the Pretoria Education Network in South Africa. Students posted information and a daily journal of the project on the special Internet homepage for the boat tour.

The Magenta Foundation is a Dutch anti-racism foundation. It was founded in 1992 as a result of violent racist attacks on migrants in Germany. Its aims and objectives are to counteract racism, fascism and discrimination and to promote integration. Since it was founded, Magenta has released a substantial number of projects. Rather than letting people come to their events, they try to bring the events to the people.

Another project carried out by the Magenta Foundation was the "Don't Vote for Racism Train." It was a week long tour with a special campaign-train through Holland a week before the general elections of 1994. Its purpose was to inform voters about extreme-right wing parties under the motto "don't give racism a vote." The train stopped in twenty-four major cities.

Everyone who took part in the Magenta Project learned a lot, which is hopefully the first step in many more learning experiences of this nature. In early 1997, "Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes" in South Africa will take place, hopefully as successful as the first.

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