My first teaching post at a Catholic high school in Alabama was in the theology department. Among other things, I taught a course in social justice. I owe a debt of gratitude for my colleagues at the time who helped me get up to speed on Catholic Social teaching (one of the best written collections of social justice to this day). Very quickly, I found myself immersed in issues that had been important to me from my early years, especially the issue of racial justice.
Enter Jane Elliott. Jane Elliott was the third grade teacher who, on the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, devised what is now called the Blue-eyed Brown-eyed Project. In short order, she found a way to help white people experience what they were doing to People of Color every day. I recently listened to an interview with her. Clips from her work might make you wince. She is unwilling to coddle white fragility as she does this work. Now in her old age, she is still speaking, still offering interviews, and still conducting the Project for audiences of white people. She is still thoroughly convinced that if we WANTED to, we could eradicate white supremacy in two generations. She knows that those who experience her Project leave change.
Jane Elliott has always been a hero for me as a teacher and as a human being. One of the messages that I hear her convey repeatedly is this: race is a social construct. We are all People of Color. There is no white race, black race, yellow race, red race. There is one race, the human race.
I agree with her. I also know that almost no one that I talk to today of whatever skin tone buys into that. I know that what she says is true, based in what we know about human genetics, and that most people dismiss it as idealism.
So, I find myself wondering: how do we move toward a place where all peoples are welcome into the one human race? How do we begin to hold ourselves, with all the variety of skin tones and hair types and colors of eyes–as one human race?