‘Ordinary People,’ was the focus for Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th this year. It was chosen
when research revealed that not only were the victims of the Holocaust and other atrocities ordinary,
but those who oppressed them were also very often ordinary.
When we realise that evil acts are not necessarily carried out by evil people we have to ask why.
Soon after the assassination of Martin Luther-King in 1968 Professor Jane Elliott performed an
experiment. She asked a class of children to divide themselves into the blue eyed and brown eyed
children and went on to tell them that the blue-eyed group was more intelligent and therefore superior.
Very soon the blue eyed children were achieving much more than the brown eyed children. Later the
experiment was reversed, and the brown eyed children achieved more. In 2001 Jane Elliott carried out
the same experiment with young adults and followed it with discussions on discrimination, including
racism. She hoped that her work would help to end all forms of discrimination, but she now says that
things are worse than they were. She is 86 now, and continues her work.
Some possible actions
Share news of the Holocaust Memorial and also of Jane Elliot’s experiments to raise awareness that
prejudice, racism and oppression may be carried out by ordinary people everywhere.
Find ways to create understanding between different groups of people, so that all forms of oppression
are less likely. Perhaps create a cross-cultural group.