The black doll / white doll experiment


1 white doll & one black doll (speak volumes)

In the 1940s, the nation was captivated by an electrifying experiment by legendary sociologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. They asked black children about two dolls, one white and one black. The majority — 63 percent of them — said they’d rather play with the white doll. Most said the white doll was nicer than the black doll and in the most poignant answer of all, 44 percent of the black children said the white doll looked most like them. “It was groundbreaking in that it sort of changed the way we look at race relations,” Harvard University professor William Julius Wilson said. “Here are kids who felt that being white was more beautiful than black. And that’s pretty devastating.” Fast forward to recent times, a high-school literature class caused Kiri Davis to construct “A girl like me” an anthology with a wide range of different stories that she believed reflected the black girl’s experience. For the different chapters, she conducted interviews with a variety of black girls in her high school, and a number of issues surfaced concerning the standards of beauty imposed on today’s black girls and how this affects their self-image. She thought this topic would make an interesting film and so when she was accepted into the Reel Works Teen Filmmaking program, she set out to explore these issues. She also decided to would re-conduct the “doll test” initially conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark, which was used in the historic desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education. She thought that by including this experiment in her film, she would shed new light on how society affects black children today and how little has actually changed. With help from mentor, Shola Lynch, and the honesty and openness of the girls interviewed, she was able to complete her first documentary in the fall of 2005.

Categories: Brainwashed
  • Kiai

    That poor little girl at 4:25, the look on her face when Kiri asked her which doll looks like her. :( This society has a long way to go!

  • Burke

    The doll test is heart-breaking…

  • Monique the Fever Diva

    This video hits so close to home. I had issues dealing with not only the color of my skin as I was growing up, but also my nationality. Being a dark-skinned girl from Liberia was not an easy fit during the early 80’s and 90’s. Though we have come a long way, unfortunately, there are still reckless speech and behavior from others that I deal with today. I remember so well as a child, the name of choice that was given to me was “African Booty Scratcher”. I would be asked silly questions by other children about having electricity or running water; hunting lions and tigers for dinner; and sleeping in huts. I would always remind those asking the questions to not equate all of Africa to what is seen on television. The thing that really bothers me today is the following comment made by adults: “You are pretty to be dark-skinned…” What is that supposed to mean?! Is it unusual to find an attractive dark-skinned person or are we not supposed to be attractive? I just don’t take that comment as a compliment. It is very offensive to me. I’m so sure that light-skinned people aren’t told the same thing. This video is bittersweet. Bitter due to the fact that it shows the internal ignorance amongst our race. Sweet, because it is shedding light on the problem and it gives us an opportunity to make a change.

  • blkfootblaque

    I had to give my self a nationality that has not been recognize and should be in the application choices and considered in the census taken for all races and origin.

  • Chantal

    I love this video. I strongly believe that all the African-American, African-Canadian and Black children around the world should see it. Thank you for posting that video.I am looking forward to see you performing at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

  • random dude

    I wonder about that psychological effect of being aware of being under an experiment (one of the meanings of “Hawthorne effect”). Perhaps the children are to some extent doing as they feel they’re supposed to do rather than expressing their real beliefs/feelings.

    I think that perhaps even the dichotomous design of the choice influences that. How would it be different if there was a larger pool of choice, with several skin tones and several different clothes?

    Perhaps even the color of the person doing the “interview”, I’d guess that a white interviewer would lead to more negative results of identification of black as ugly. I wouldn’t be surprised by remarkably different results if the interview was conducted in a more spontaneous manner, rather than a experiment-interview awkward situation.

    And I’m also curious about the effect that “priming” could have. I’ve read or heard that the implicit association bias can be substantially weakened/nullified if, before the test, people just see the picture of a black family in a picnic. Perhaps showing the children pictures of black models/actors/actresses first would also skew the results somewhat. And conversely, only showing white models would skew it even further in the bad direction. And further yet if additionally they’re primed with particularly ugly black people. Or vice-versa, with ugly white people. Not so much strongly just because white is much more common in the real world and media, so perhaps there’s always enough of a “good image” in the subconscious to make up for the bad-priming to some degree I guess. For every “mr Bean” people have seen a dozen Brad Pitts or whatever.

    In the other hand, I saw recently a series of composite pictures generated by asking which persons looked more handsome/ugly/masculine/feminine to white and black people, they had to chose separately from faces of white and black persons. Curiously enough, the “more handsome” black man composite generated by interviewing black people had a substantially lighter skin tone than the “more handsome” black composite generated by white people’s choices.

    White composites didn’t varied noticeably/remarkably in skin shade if I recall. The composites generated by black and white persons were quite similar, almost strikingly, besides that. The most evident difference I recall was that the “handsome white” generated by black persons had a somewhat narrower face or just the chin.

    I’m also a bit curious about the children’s perception of red hair, specially in combination with gender. I find quite curious that while red haired women are often seen as specially beautiful, the same does not seem to be true for men. The number of “beutiful redheaded celebrities” of each gender seems to be quite different. To a lesser extent it seems to be true also for blond men, but not so much, perhaps it’s just that there are less of them overall I guess, they could even be overrepresented if we really do the math. But it seems hardly the case with redhaired men.

  • Emosely

    I’m so glad more people are seeing this. As an educator for the past 18 years, I have seen the holistic impact of media and the manufacturing industry’s portrayal of people of color on children. It will continue unless we all see the value and intrinsic worth of each one. My mother, has spent 30+ years collecting, restoring, and perserving Black Dolls (she has more than 3,000 in her home museum) to combat the negative stereotypes and social impact on all children. Dig the skin I’m In.

  • Lily

    I work with 3 to 5 year old black children. I am not black or white but I believe that experiment was wrong for the reason that children of that age should not be put in the position to choose which colored doll is nicer. For the reason that this children have feelings and each one of them is unique in their own way. The color of their skin or how their hair is curly or straight. Really shouldn’t affect the way people see them. People should see how wonderful these children are, and for who they are.Not what they want them to be or who they look like. People shouldn’t tell or insinuate to small kids that one color is better than the other. For the reason that all the different cultures here in the United States are mixed. And not one culture is pure no more.

    • MaryJoe Lisa

      you’re right skin color, hair texture, these things shouldn’t matter, but the reality is…they do. This study is not wrong, these feelings were not forced on those children and they were not forced to think one is better than the other, it is this indirect teaching they have fallen victim of. I can relate as I child my mother taught equality however, I used to wish i were white, or even mixed so my skin would be lighter not because of what i was forced to accept but because of society and what i saw growing up.


    “Arrested Development