With an increase in hateful behavior in America, apparently inspired by presidential candidate vitriol known as “the Drumpf Effect,” perhaps it is time to change our schools’ curriculum in response, and bring back the exercise that my 4th grade teacher used as an object lesson in the ugliness of prejudice.
My teacher told her students that science had just proven that people with brown eyes are superior and people with other color eyes are inferior. She said we brown-eyeds are smarter, more attractive, and had better character. As she went on extolling the virtues of brown eyed people over those with green, blue, or hazel eyes, I felt myself puffing up and looking with a sense of disdain toward my previously equal classmates.
I saw my classmates deflating around me, but that did not matter much. To a kid with low self esteem it was more important to enjoy the elevated feeling of this sense of entitlement.
After a short while the teacher stopped and asked us to look around the room at our classmates. Those of us with brown eyes — the majority — sat tall, feeling smug, superior, and full of ourselves. The minority of children with eyes of a “wrong” color looked sad, ashamed, hurt, and degraded. Our teacher said “this is how prejudice feels.”
She went on to inform us that what she had first said was a lie. Of course, there was no scientific basis for brown eyed people to be superior in any way. “That was propaganda,” she told us. “Lies designed to make us hate other people for no good reason.”
I don’t remember my 4th grade teacher’s name, but I have never forgotten how ashamed I felt at my readiness to consider myself superior for no good reason, to hurtfully look down upon my classmates based on nothing but a quickly spoken lie.
Now I understand that prejudice — the willingness to believe one has inherent superiority — actually stems from low self esteem. It is a way to feel better about oneself, at others’ expense.
This is a 4th grade lesson for all.
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