GOD CREATED ONE race: the human race. Humans created racism. Because of that, celebrated educator Jane Elliott concluded that racism can be fixed. She has spent more than 50 years adapting the now famous “blue eyes/brown eyes exercise.”

As a school teacher in the small town of Riceville, Iowa, Elliott first conducted the antiracism experiment on her all-white third-grade classroom in 1968, the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have to admit, I had never heard of this exercise until recently.

Elliott wanted her students to understand what discrimination felt like. Elliott split her students into two groups, based on eye color. She told them that people with brown eyes were superior to those with blue eyes for reasons she made up. She told them brown-eyed people were smarter, more civilized and better than blue-eyed people.

Elliott, now 87, said she sees much work left to do to change racist attitudes. Recent events around the country have plunged the United States into a reckoning of racial inequality. “It’s happening every day in this country. We are repeating the blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise on a daily basis.”

Why did she choose eye color for her exercise? Eye and skin color are caused by the same chemical: melanin. There’s no logic in judging people by the amount of a chemical in their skin. Pigmentation should have nothing to do with how you treat another person, but it does, said Elliott.

The exercise has been conducted at thousands of seminars over the years, and Elliott has appeared on numerous TV programs such as Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, PBS, a BBC documentary and several times on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.

Once you treat each group differently, discrimination against the people who have blue eyes, catering to those people with brown eyes by giving them special privileges, the students started to internalize and accept the characteristics they’d been arbitrarily given based on the color of their eyes.

Almost immediately, the discriminated-against people became flabbergasted and started resenting the catered people. And the catered people bought into the idea that they are superior.

Elliott believes the last few years have brought out America’s worst racist tendencies. The empathy she works to inspire in students with the experiment, which has evolved over the years, is necessary.

People of other color groups seem to understand, she said. Probably because they have been taught how they’re treated in this country, that they have to understand us. White people on the other hand, don’t have to understand them. We have to let people find out how it feels to be on the receiving end of that which we dish out so readily.

Elliott received a lot of backlash from fellow teachers and members of the community, but she defends her work. You have to put the exercise in the context of the rest of the year. Yes, it was tough on the children, but they returned to a better place. A child of color who gets abused every day never has the ability to find him- or herself in a nurturing classroom environment.

The exercise is an inoculation against racism. We give our children shots to inoculate them against polio and smallpox to protect them against the realities in the future. The risks are worth taking.

The feisty Elliott summed her work up with “White people’s No. 1 freedom, in the United States, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our No. 2 freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”