More than two decades ago, a diversity expert named Jane Elliott conducted a social experiment on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" meant to simulate what it's like to be discriminated against. In a surprising move, she separated the unsuspecting audience members into two groups based solely on the color of their eyes.
Over the course of the show, audience members with blue eyes were treated brusquely while members with eyes of different colors were very visibly given special privileges. Neither groups were aware that they were part of an experiment.
The strong reactions of both groups to their unequal treatment is telling. Although Elliott's anti-blue-eyed segregation was unprecedented, one woman was apparently so quickly convinced by it that she stood up to voice her negative opinion of blue-eyed people.
"I had a girlfriend in school who was blue-eyed. She was so stupid, she was always copying off of my papers," she said. "These people were so rude and so noisy today, we couldn't hear ourselves even talk."
The experiment is shocking, but important. It briefly allows people with privilege to experience what it's like to suddenly be without it -- but, as Elliott reminded the blue-eyed group, they would be able to take off the collars that marked their unequal status when they left. People of color don't have the option to shake off the discrimination against them at the end of the day.
Elliott designed the experiment to teach her third grade students about racism and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. But in doing so, she seems to have established a legacy of her own.