Metro

  • Written by Toni Sturdivant, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, Texas A&M University-Commerce

Back in the 1940s, Kenneth and Mamie Clark – a husband-and-wife team[1] of psychology researchers – used dolls to investigate how young Black children viewed their racial identities[2].

They found that given a choice between Black dolls and white dolls, most Black children preferred to play with white dolls[3]. They ascribed positive characteristics to the white dolls but negative characteristics to the Black ones. Then, upon being asked to describe the doll that looked most like them, some of the children became “emotionally upset[4] at having to identify with the doll that they had rejected.”

The Clarks concluded[5] that Black children – as a result of living in a racist society[6] – had come to see themselves in a negative light.

Two Black scientists sit together while conducting their research. Kenneth Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark in 1945. Washington Area Spark/flickr, CC BY[7][8]

I first heard about the Clarks’ doll experiment with preschool children during a Black studies class in college in the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until one of my daughters came home from preschool one day in 2017 talking about how she didn’t like being Black that I decided to create the doll test anew.

Struggling with identity

When my daughter attended a diverse preschool, there weren’t any issues. But when she switched over to a virtually all-white preschool, my daughter started saying she didn’t like her dark skin. I tried to assuage her negative feelings about the skin she was in. I told her, “I like it.” She just quipped, “You can have it.” But it wasn’t just her skin color she had a problem with. She told me she also wanted blue eyes “like the other kids” at her school.

Perturbed, I spoke with others about the episode. I began to suspect that if my daughter had identity issues despite being raised by a culturally aware Black mom like me – an educator at that – then countless other Black children throughout America were probably experiencing some sort of internalized self-hatred as well.

In search of the cause

The Clarks’ research was used in the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education case[9] to advance the cause of integrated schools. Their findings about Black children’s negative view of themselves were attributed to the effects of segregation[10]. But I knew from experience that the preference for whiteness that the Clarks found was not limited to just Black kids in segregated schools in the 20th century. It was affecting Black kids in integrated schools in the 21st century as well.

Maybe, I thought, the racial bias wasn’t related to schools as much as it was to the broader society in which we live. Maybe it was much more nuanced than whether Black kids attended an all-Black school or went to school alongside other kids.

But to verify that Black kids were still viewing their Blackness in a negative light the way the Clarks found that they were back in the 1940s, I would have to do so as a researcher. So I set out to get my doctorate in early childhood education and began to look deeper into how children develop racial identities.

A new approach

In their doll test studies, the Clarks prompted young children to respond to questions of character. They would ask questions like, which doll – the Black one or the white one – was the nice doll? This required the children to select a doll to answer the question. This experiment – and prior research by the Clarks – showed that young children notice race[11] and that they have racial preferences[12].

While these studies let us know that – contrary to what some people may think – children do, in fact, see color, the tests were far from perfect. Although I respect the Clarks for what they contributed to society’s understanding of how Black children see race, I believe their doll tests were really kind of unnatural – and, I would even argue, quite stressful. What if, for instance, the children were not forced to choose between one doll or the other, but could choose dolls on their own without any adults prodding them? And what if there were more races and ethnicities available from which to choose?

With these questions in mind, I placed four racially diverse dolls (white, Latina, Black with lighter skin, and Black with medium skin) in a diverse preschool classroom and observed Black preschool girls as they played[13] for one semester. My work was published in Early Childhood Education, a peer-reviewed journal.

I felt choosing to watch the children play – rather than sitting them down to be interviewed – would allow me to examine their preferences more deeply. I wanted to get at how they actually behaved[14] with the dolls – not just what they said about the dolls.

Three young girls play with dolls together at a table outside. Girls play with dolls at a table set up in a yard. Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images[15]

Observing play in action

Without asking specific questions as the Clarks did, I still found a great deal of bias in how the girls treated the dolls. The girls rarely chose the Black dolls during play. On the rare occasions that the girls chose the Black dolls, they mistreated them. One time a Black girl put the doll in a pot and pretended to cook the doll. That’s not something the girls did with the dolls that weren’t Black.

When it came time to do either of the Black dolls’ hair, the girls would pretend to be hairstylists and say, “I can’t do that doll’s hair. It’s too big,” or, “It’s too curly.” But they did the hair for the dolls of other ethnicities. While they preferred to style the Latina doll’s straight hair, they were also happy to style the slightly crimped hair of the white doll as well.

The children were more likely to step over or even step on the Black dolls to get to other toys. But that didn’t happen with the other dolls.

What it means

Back in the 1950s, the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, used the Clarks’ doll test research as evidence for the need to desegregate schools. Yet in my own doll test study, more than half a century later in an integrated setting, I found the same anti-Black bias was still there.

Children are constantly developing their ideas about race[16], and schools serve as just one context for racial learning. I believe adults who care about the way Black children see themselves should create more empowering learning environments for Black children.

Whether it be in the aisles of the beauty section of a grocery store, the main characters selected for a children’s movie or the conversations parents have at the dinner table, Black children need spaces that tell them they are perfect just the way they are.

Authors: Toni Sturdivant, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, Texas A&M University-Commerce

Read more https://theconversation.com/what-i-learned-when-i-recreated-the-famous-doll-test-that-looked-at-how-black-kids-see-race-153780

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

SANDRA BOOKER RELEASES “UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN”

SANDRA BOOKER "Until We Meet Again" RELEASES WORLDWIDE MARCH 30TH There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create works that meet our collective moment at a time we most need their...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

How Can Music Itself Survive Without Rock n Roll?

Just because you don’t hear much straightforward rock and roll on the Top 40 charts these days doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. Its time in the mainstream limelight may not be as popular as it was when I was growing up in the 70s and what we now...

Michael Mesey, American Greed - avatar Michael Mesey, American Greed

Is Rock Music a Dying Breed?

“Rock ‘n’ Roll [is here to stay, it...] can […will] never die” – David Ernest White, Neil Percival Young, etc. “Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead” – Leonard Albert Kravitz, Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, etc. “And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby…” – S...

Eli Soiefer/Emodulari - avatar Eli Soiefer/Emodulari

skinsNbones

“There’s Reason” The question mark (?) logo that Brisbane, Australia husband and wife rockers skinsNbones use in all their promotional materials in lieu of band photos reflects a fascinating aesthetic designed to create mystery, provoke and en...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

RAP without the F Bomb

Some would say that’s like peanut butter without jelly.  Hey, I am no prude and I shocked my best friend from grade school when I said “great detectives caught the Mo Foes, from my new song Clean Slate.”  She said:  whoa, you dropped the F word.”...

Rebecca L Davis   aka    DawgGoneDavis - avatar Rebecca L Davis aka DawgGoneDavis

My COVID Musical Journey by Kai Alece

It has been said that maybe one in 1 million musicians will make it to stardom. If you are in the top 5%, you are probably writing songs for top artists, scoring for blockbuster films and TV, a sought after session musician or maybe even playing ...

Kai Alece - avatar Kai Alece

Metropolitan Business News

Perfecting Web Design For A Health-Based Website

These days, when it comes to understanding what we put into our bodies, we are more focused than ever. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another health benefit, product, or trend on the...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

3 Realistic Reasons Why Physical Offices Are (Almost) Dead

Nowadays, more and more businesses are trying to find alternatives to traditional offices. For many years, brick and mortar offices have been at the heart of a company’s life. But work environme...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Advantages of no-code app development for businesses

A marketer may or may not have knowledge about coding. But even if you don't’ have knowledge in coding, it is easy to build an automation sequence between two apps by making use of a no code app bui...

News Co - avatar News Co

Do Directories Still Help SEO?

Directories were once one of the main staples of SEO and they were definitely in existence before search engines took over. Directories were once the main way that people navigated the world wide we...

News Co - avatar News Co

Shipping Container FAQs

If you are looking to rent or purchase a shipping container, you probably have a few questions. We have selected some of the most common questions and answered them here. We hope that you find this ...

News Co - avatar News Co

Is Duplicate Content an SEO Myth?

Any marketer you speak to about duplicate content is concerned about a “duplicate content penalty” but they are probably not very experienced with SEO. Google has specific guidelines on duplicate co...

News Co - avatar News Co

Writers Wanted


News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion