By Elisa Cramer
Friday, August 18, 2006
Dr. Kenneth Clark has been dead for more than a year, but I still want to prove him wrong.
If you don't know of the renowned psychologist by name, you nonetheless benefited from his work. Dr. Clark and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, took white dolls and black ones to various communities in the South and the North in the 1940s and early 1950s and found that, overwhelmingly, black children said the white dolls were "nice" and the black dolls were "bad." The study was so compelling in demonstrating, as Dr. Clark described, "the extent of the cruelty of racism and how hard it hit," that the U.S. Supreme Court cited it in its 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling to outlaw segregated schools.
After proclaiming the black dolls "bad," some of the black children likened themselves to the white dolls. Others cried or left the room when asked to identify which one was most like them. One boy, in Arkansas, smiled at a black doll, pointed to it and said: "That's a nigger. I'm a nigger."
"These children saw themselves as inferior," Dr. Clark wrote, "and they accepted the inferiority as part of reality."
Fast-forward four decades to 1995. Dr. Clark told The New York Times then that, "The doll test today probably would not be that much different." Ten years since, a new documentary suggests that he was right.
Kiri Davis, a now-17-year-old who lives in Manhattan, last year asked 4- and 5-year-olds at a Harlem day-care center which of a white or black doll they liked best or would like to play with. Fifteen of the 21 black children chose the white doll as "nice" and the black doll as "bad." Why bad? "Because it's black," the children repeatedly said in Ms. Davis' documentary, A Girl Like Me.
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