During the 40’s psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark created the doll test to test the effects of segregation on black children. The findings provided overwhelming evidence of the damaging consequences of segregation for young African-Americans; many children demonstrated signs of internalized inferiority. In the experiment, the Clarks presented black children with dolls that were identical in every aspect except for color. All of the children correctly identified the race of the dolls. However, when asked to select the doll that they preferred, most of the children selected the white doll and ascribed positive attributes to it. When the Clarks asked the children to draw themselves, many of the children chose white and yellow crayons and refused to use brown or black crayons. In addition to feelings of inferiority, the children exhibited signs of self-hatred. Today, African-American children continue to exhibit the very findings reported by the Clarks. In 2006, 17-year-old Kiri Davis’ eight minute documentary “A Girl Like Me” revealed that little has changed:
A female voice asks the child a question: “Can you show me the doll that looks bad?”
The child, a preschool-aged Black girl, quickly picks up and shows the Black doll over a White one that is identical in every respect except complexion.
“And why does that look bad?”
“Because she’s Black,” the little girl answers emphatically.
“And why is this the nice doll?” the voice continues.
“Because she’s White.”
“And can you give me the doll that looks like you?”
The little girl hesitates for a split second before handing over the Black doll that she has just designated as the uglier one.
Today many African-American parents say that the color of a doll should not be a deciding factor when making purchases. However, their children often own a disproportional number of white dolls. Aren’t we making a decision not to buy a black doll if we are choosing a white one? Unfortunately, the legacy of segregation and slavery does not only manifest itself in children; it begins with and is apparent in the behavior of their parents. Today there are many options for parents who are concerned about the images available to their children and ways to counteract the concepts of beauty that are being transmitted to their children. The site Dollslikeme provides parents with so many different kinds of clothes, dolls, toys, books and hair products that are affirming for young children of color. It was very hard for me to keep myself from buying some of the dolls that I saw (Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker). However, what is most appealing about the site is its committment to promoting diversity in a multicultural society. Hispanic, asian, white and black dolls are present on the site. This is more reflective of the society that we live in and provides children with beautiful imitations of themselves, people in their neighborhood and people in school. The dolls possess a range of hair textures (straight to tightly curled)!!! This made me smile because all children can benefit from having dolls that reflect society (I do not believe that children should only have dolls of one color because play is practice for life). Although the Clarks’ experiment only revealed the negative side effects of segregation for the African-American community, we all exhibit the symptoms of those who have lived in a society built upon the backs of others and should always be looking to heal ourselves and eachother.