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The Doll Test that Started the Engines of BDA

Brought to America and stripped of their African heritage, black people began their struggle with hue. Still, blacks and whites, remain torn on the issue of skin color.

Kenneth Bancroft Clark (July 14, 1914 – May 1, 2005) and Mamie Phipps Clark (April 18, 1917 – August 11, 1983)
were African-American psychologists who as a married team conducted important research among children and were active in the Civil Rights Movement. They founded the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem and the organization Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU). Kenneth Clark also was an educator and professor at City College of New York, and first Black president of the American Psychological Association.The Clarks’ were known for their 1940s experiments using dolls to study children's attitudes about race. Their doll experiments grew out of Mamie Clark's master's degree thesis. The doll experiment involved a child being presented with two dolls. Both of these dolls were completely identical except for the skin and hair color. One doll was white with yellow hair, while the other was brown with black hair. The child was then asked questions inquiring as to which one is the doll they would play with, which one is the nice doll, which one looks bad, which one has the nicer color, etc. The experiment showed a clear preference for the white doll among all children in the study. These findings exposed internalized racism in African-American children, self-hatred that was more acute among children attending segregated schools. The Clarks’ published three major papers between 1939 and 1940 on children's self perception related to race. Their studies found contrasts among African-American children attending segregated schools in Washington, DC versus those in integrated schools in New York This work suggests that by its very nature, segregation harms children and, by extension, society at large, a suggestion that was exploited in several legal battles. The Clarks’ testified as expert witnesses in several school desegregation cases, including Briggs v. Elliott, which was later combined into the famous Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The Clarks' doll tests studies contributed to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in which it determined that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the Brown v. Board opinion, "To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone". The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.

Circa 2005

Filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. Despite the many changes in some parts of society, Davis found the same results of the studies conducted in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

December 17, 2007
The Black Doll Affair Movement to remind black women and children of the beauty in hue, began turning its wheels when Dana Hill, saw Kiri Davis on the Oprah Show. Discussing her documentary [above], "A Girl Like Me," Kiri's award winning 7 minute video re-conducted the doll test, proving that since Kenneth's test, black children / people, still struggle with hue they are and prefer lighter, whiter, skin tones.


CNN's Anderson Cooper "Black or White? Kids on Race"

Good Morning American {ABC} Examines U.S. Race Relations by Revisiting the Clarks' Famed Doll Experiment

With the Clarks' doll test model, media outlets continue to test for changes on how we feel about hue. From ABC New's 2009 doll test to CNN's 2010 Doll test analysis, we're learning what we already knew, there's not much love for the black hue. Until now...

"An Idea, A Film, A Movement!
From one teen made film: Seven million views, a thousand blogs and a national debate on race and identity. PRETTY POWERFUL. I remember the day Kiri brought in the raw footage and screened it. It was one of the most powerful and heartbreaking things I had ever seen. But the finished film, A Girl Like Me, went viral, reaching millions online and millions more when Kiri appeared on World News Tonight, CNN and Oprah. It even spawned a movement – The Black Doll Affair – dedicated to empowering black girls and women everywhere. In 2006, a teenage girl came to Reel Works with an idea of exploring how the impact of slavery and racism can be seen within black culture today. Her name was Kiri Davis and her mentor was acclaimed documentary filmmaker Shola Lynch. Together, they recreated the famous “doll test” from Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950’s by asking 21 Harlem preschoolers to choose between two dolls – one black, one white. Her discovery? 50 years after desegregation, a majority of black children still preferred the white doll over the black doll." - Reel Works Teen Filmmaking.

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