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Race row ignited in America by “Doll test”

Similar to Spielberg’s “The Color Purple, Amistad and Schindler’s List”, which touched on race and image issues, “A Girl Like Me”, left audiences at film festivals across the country stunned.

Recreating the 1954 doll test used by psychologist Kenneth Clark to plead the case for desegregation in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision which outlawed segregation in public schools, Kiri Davis rolled a video tape in front of little Black girls examining two dolls. One Black, one White

One-by-one (to a total of 15 of the 21 questioned), the little girls scooped up the Black doll which, save for its colour, was dressed identically to the White doll.

The reassuring 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.

This was not the 1954 doll test used by pioneering psychologist Kenneth B. Clark to help make the case for desegregation in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated public schools. Rather, it was a doll test duplicated in Harlem, N. Y., last year, more than a half-century after Brown. To the chagrin of parents and psychologists across the nation, the results were unchanged.

In realizing that so many dark-skinned girls have been told that lighter or whiter skin is more beautiful, Davis decided to drive home her point by conducting the doll study.

“You could tell these people about the standards of beauty that are forced on young girls all you want to. But they won’t get it until you show them,” she said.

The children are from a Harlem Day Care Center. And 15 of the 21 children surveyed preferred the White doll over the Black one, a results that has astounded many.
The Davis test shows that psychology has not changed very much at all.

The film also features brief interviews with four teens who object to having been stereotyped as less intelligent or uglier simply because they do not meet the expectations of advertisers’ perceived standards of beauty.

Gail Wyatt, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles, says she would recommend to any parent to instill racial pride into their children well before pre-school.

Children should be socialized between the ages of 2-4 to understand culture and skin color, Wyatt says. “They should be taught a concept of beauty and a context of ancestry.”

Kiri’s mother, Ursula Davis, an education consultant, says educating her daughter and instilling pride about her heritage was a high priority around the home.

She says that when Kiri was in pre-kindergarten, enjoying the tales of Cinderella and Snow White, she once said out loud at school that she wanted to be a princess, too.
A little friend, a Hispanic boy, quickly dispelled her dream. He told her she couldn’t be a princess because she was Black and that only White girls were princesses.

“I almost accepted it at first,” says the teenager, recalling the childhood exchange. “Now I only want to make films that are about issues that are of importance to me, films that don’t show the stereotypes.”

Some parents say their children are bombarded with countless negative images each day and that it takes a special effort to compete with those images.

Sandra Cox, director of the Coalition of Mental Health Professionals in Los Angeles and a past president of the Association of Black Psychologists, says the short film clip may have understated the problem.

“I believe if any of us out here [on the West Coast] were to do the same study, it would be still worse,” she says.

Watch the video

Posted by, Asif Yusuf


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