[LATimes news article on the experiment]
In 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, a third grade teacher named Jane Elliott tried to devise a way to make her all-white students understand the power of prejudice from an angle to which they had previously been unexposed. Mrs. Elliott told her students that they would play a game in which the blue-eyed students belonged to an inferior group of lazy, stupid people, and that the next day the rules would be switched around so that the brown-eyed children were inferior.
The children were enthusiastic about this "game". Some of the rules included that the "inferior" group must use a cup to drink from the water fountain, must leave late to lunch and recess, and must not speak to the "superior" group. Almost immediately, the superior group began to act noticeably different towards the others and amongst themselves. They became more confident, arrogant even, and domineering, excluding the other group. Interestingly, children in the superior group who had previously shown slowness in learning to read were now excelling academically, while children of the inferior group displayed angry, resentful, frightened, "stupid", and intimidated behavior.
This experiment was an exercise in the way prejudice and racism work in society. It demonstrated that prejudice does not originate internally or independently, and that it depends on externally introduced notions. Different races or skin colors are unnecessary in an experiment with prejudice and discrimination based on physical differences, which is important because it shows the arbitrary nature of prejudice. The discriminated-against characteristic can just as easily be eye color as skin color.
[Jane Elliott expands on the importance of this experiment in today's world.]