I happened to watch an Oprah Winfrey television program the other day and found myself absolutely fascinated. It was a rerun of what she called a “vintage program” originally aired in 1992 and featuring a schoolteacher well known both in education and business circles for her teaching on racial bias.
On arrival at the studio, those of the audience with blue eyes were separated from those with eyes of a different color. They were treated quite rudely and given blue collars to put on so that they could be readily identified. They were then made to stand waiting for several hours while those with non-blue eyes were treated to pre-show refreshments.
When they entered the studio, those with blue eyes were all seated together en bloc and some were given no seat at all but asked to squat on the floor at the front. The non-blue eyed were also seated in a block together.
The guest (the teacher) then started to lecture on the inferiority of people with blue eyes, suggesting that they had not the same capacity or intelligence as non-blue-eyed people. She was very rude to the blue-eyed and very civil to the non-blue-eyed. When the blue-eyed complained about the treatment they had received, she put them down and suggested that was a trait of blue-eyed people… always to bemoan their lot. The more she pursued this, the angrier they got. Some, in fact, left!
The show went on for some time until Oprah started to explain that this was an experiment to explore the biases of people.
It became apparent that the guest was treating the blue-eyed segment of the audience the same way whites tend to treat non-whites in this country. Understandably, the blue-eyed on the receiving end didn’t like it. As the program went on, however, people gradually became aware that she was speaking the truth. This was possibly the first time any of the blue-eyed had been on the receiving end of such cultural chauvinism. It was uncomfortable. It was not right.
The teacher suggested that as children we are not born with a cultural bias but that this is learned behavior, taught by adults. Another schoolteacher in the audience (a non-blue-eyed person) objected and suggested that he had always been taught to be tolerant of people of other cultures. Oprah’s guest picked up on that and suggested tolerance is not enough. Other cultures demand our appreciation and respect. “It’s an issue,” she suggested, “of equity.”
I got more uncomfortable by the minute because what she was talking about has application far beyond race or language or country of origin. She was talking about something that finds expression in all walks of life, including the church–dare I say, including the Army. Boiled down to its essence, it suggests, “If you are not like me, you are inferior to me.”
I heard the story of a retired officer on vacation at a corps on the West Coast. He wore no uniform and received no welcome. During the morning meeting, the officer’s wife noticed that he was singing all the songs without a songbook and knew the words. After the meeting she went to him, found out he was a Salvationist and made him very welcome.
Do we treat visiting or transferring Salvationists different from visitors who walk off the street? Do those in uniform feel superior to (and perhaps despise or question the commitment of) those who are not? Do those who like traditional Army music look down on those who do now? And do those who like contemporary Christian music look down on those who like traditional Army songs?…
Do previous generations look down on younger ones who do not see the Army in the same way?… and vice versa? Should they?
We are all God’s children no matter what race, ethnicity or generation. When any one group thinks it is superior to another…
“…don’t it make your brown eyes blue?”