Monday, January 29, 2007

The White Doll

Watch this.

During the 1940s psychologists Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie Phipps Clark tried to demonstrate the negative effects of segregation on black children. They developed a test using four dolls, identical except for the skin color. When asked which doll they liked best, most of the black children chose the white doll. After the testing was completed, Clark concluded that "prejudice, discrimination, and segregation" caused African American children to develop a senses of inferiority and self-hatred. The results of the tests were used during court cases, including Brown v. Board of Education, to show that segregation damaged the personality development of black children.

17-year old aspiring filmmaker Kiri Davis conducted her own "doll test" as part of her 2005 documentary "A Girl Like Me" in which she explores the problematic standards of beauty that many black women encounter and internalize. Interstingly, her experiement yeilds results similar to those of the Clarks. 15 of the 21 black children interviewed still prefer the white doll, associating it with greater value and beauty than its black counterpart.

60 years of civil right victories and a steady influx of powerful black icons and idols in the public eye have seemingly done little to alter the psychology of our children. Where does that leave us?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend sent this video to me a couple of days ago, and in all honesty I was shocked and saddened by what I saw. It was so heartbreaking for me to see one little girl associate negative attributes to the Black doll, and then pick the same one when asked which one looked like her. It leads me to think that no matter how often we tell our children how beautiful and special they are, the messages from the world as a whole are still going to have an impact. As a student in a PhD program where Black people are few and far between, I have to remind myself that Black is indeed beautiful. It’s sad to know that in 2007 this is still an issue…

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Albert said...

It leaves us left behind. And what is worse is that with this current supreme court every gain that could be made through affirmative action will be lost. My question to you is how do you help black people love who they are?

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Herukhuti said...

Peace Larry,

The issue is that the argument used in the case and the use of the research findings were both flawed. Segregated education was not responsible for Inferiority and self-hate among Black folks. Segregated education was merely one aspect of a system of oppression. The system accommodated the change in law and practice brought about my the Supreme Court decision while maintaining itself. The system that existed before the case continues to exist today. Therefore, the results of the contemporary version of the study are necessarily going to mimick the results of the original version.

The legal argument though successful was fatally flawed in conceptualizing social reality. Separate but equal is only inherently unequal when power remains in the hands of one group at the expense of the other. Likewise, integration is inherently unequal when power remains in the hands of one group at the expense of the other.

When one understands these realities, one is not surprised by any of this, not even the fact that most so-called Black leaders are silent about the failure of the legal case to affect real change for the better in the lives of Black people.

4:48 AM  
Blogger Larry D. Lyons II said...

Just to clarify, although I do think the "study" raises worthwile questions, it was never lost on me that there were clear methodological (and perhaps ethical) problems with both Clark and Davis' studies. If my "quick and dirty" summarizing the aims of the two projects read as an endorsement of some sort, this was not my intent.

Neither have I suggested that the results are surprising. What I do think is that they provide us with an opportunity to reflect upon the last 60 years and to interrogate the notion of historical progress, particularly as it applies to the fraught psychology of race relations and civil rights in America.

Afterall, I do work on white supremacy and the white normative gaze, folks. I'm always excited when something -- anything that examines the value of whiteness happens to enter into the mainstream. One might make the charge that it's unfortunate (and perhaps intentional) that those studies which are methodologically unsound are the ones that garner visibility... And I wouldn't disagree. But in a national media where diversity and tolerance are often indistinguishable from tokenism and exotification, I'm happy to see that a consideration of the psychological impact of white supremacy upon black children can be featured on the morning news. And I'm equally happy that 17-year-old Kiri Davis is being encouraged to delve deeper into her work, and to ask more informed, nuanced questions through her art.

I'm not taking issue with most of the points Heru made as much as I'm clarifying why I chose to share the piece with you all.

I also think that the Clarks would agree with you, Heru, that "segregated education was merely one aspect of a system of oppression." Although the study was used for the relatively narrow purposes of the Brown v Board case, I think the Clarks aimed to show how "prejudice, discrimination, and segregation" in general caused African American children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I've seen similar studies like this conducted on shows like 20/20, and it pains me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Vanessa Byers said...

I surfed over here from 2000 Bloggers. I am so digging the vibe you have going on over here Larry D. Lyons II. I'm adding you to my blogroll.

Now, back to the video. As a people group, Black women still deal with the same issues regarding the epitome of beauty being eurocentric. Our own so-called Black magazines (Ebony, Jet, Essence, etc.) still do little to combat this terroristic attack on the pyche of Blacks or educate Blacks otherwise. I won't even get into the movies and videos that pair Black males with white Hispanic females and caucasian females.

As a Black female, I made a conscious decision to wear my hair natural to the chagrin of others ---- most of them Black. I think my hair is beautiful and I love my locs. I still cringe during during conversations about "good" hair.

It's a no-brainer. At some point we must stop talking and start doing. Those of us that know better should just do better. I'm doing my bit every chance I get. Peace.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Keguro said...

I'm trying to think through the disjunct temporalities of legislation and affect, reading Coetzee's Disgrace. Does proclaiming a nation independent or post-apartheid or post-civil rights radically rupture (I think rupture is the word here) affect? I'm not sure.

I wonder if your question has more to do with the "failure" of a certain cultural moment, let's say late 60s through the 70s, to produce a subject (or icon) that could compete effectively with the ever-present, and more compatible with dominant american values, black middle-class.

Perhaps I am too stuck in the Harlem Renaissance.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this only proves the segregation is manifested from not only the physical aspects but also mentally.
Personally I think we need some form of segregation, it creates a more stable society, especially now that we have made progress.

4:45 AM  
Blogger Emotionalbrotha said...

damn shame..

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Bronzetrinity said...

If you liked the YouTube video called 'A Girl Like Me' by Kiri Davis then here is a way that you can help this shining star win a $10,000 scholarship! PLEASE vote for Kiri in the Cosmo Girl Website at Her film has really inspired me and I think this young lady has a great future ahead of her.
You can view 'A Girl Like Me' on
And please Spread the Word!

P.S. nice photos :)

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Doreen Richard said...

As mi'kmaq First Nations teacher living in Canada, I was not surprised, however, I was very saddened that a society exists where little children, pre-schoolers, are already facing the challenges associated with low self esteem. I wouldw love to have a copy of this documentary or film, "A Girl Like Me" to use to educate the youth I teach here in Canada. Acceptance starts at home, Doreen Richard, e-mail== review or call, 1-506-536-3141, Thank you very much

6:16 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home