I remember all too well laying across my living room floor as kid when “The Doll Test” was presented on ABC’s news program “20/20.” I do not recall exactly how old I was, but I was old enough to reason that something was terribly wrong with the test where little Black girls were asked to comment on how they felt about dolls–some Black and some white. How could children of color lack self-confidence and believe that white baby dolls were better than Black baby dolls? Why was this even a question or concern? Why did this even matter?
I grew up with my very own Kenya doll, black Barbies, a Black cabbage patch, a Black baby alive, and an American Girl Addy Doll. In elementary school, we had African American Achievement Programs where we wore Kente cloth, recited classic poems from the Harlem Renaissance, and sang old Negro spirituals. At home, I watched The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Family Matters. I did not have Doc McStuffins television show or anything, but you clearly get where I am going with this. We had James Brown’s “Say It Loud” on vinyl. Black Pride was on overload in my household.
“Where did these children come from? Who raised them?” These questions and many more raced through my brain as I watched the investigative news piece on the race insecurities of African American children as a whole.
But of course I had these thoughts; Black Jesus was in a gold frame over my guardian’s headboard. Growing up in the 90’s in Philadelphia made me feel like the whole world was Black and proud. This sheltered perspective further induced by murals of legends like Patti Labelle and Cecil B. Moore painted on the side of buildings would soon come to a screeching halt during my high school days in honors courses and my undergraduate studies in NYC.
I found that when mixed in with others, my otherwise very vocal and very charismatic peers of color were not so comfortable expressing their Black pride. I will make no judgments as to why. I have several leads, but one article does not give me the space to divulge. I will say that all this leads me to the decision some may find offensive.
As long as I am buying their toys, my daughters will not play with white dolls.
Now before you call me a racist or a prejudice person, hear me out. I am not saying that my daughters cannot play with non-African American children. The exact opposite is true. Most of our social engagements involve non-African American persons. We are the only African Americans in our residential complex. Also, the parks, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, shopping malls, museums, and restaurants we frequent are primarily inhabited by non-African Americans. Excluding family events and church, we rarely see Black people.
For this reason, I think that it is very important for our girls to get acclimated with who they are racially and culturally speaking. Filtering their toys and media entertainment is one way of ensuring that they do so.
“The Doll Test” I mentioned earlier comes by way of two African American psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, husband and wife, who conducted a study in the 1940’s to test the psychological effects of segregation on children of color. Their findings would eventually be used in the famous school desegregation case, Brown v. The Board of Education.
I know what you are thinking: that was over 60 years ago! Schools are no longer segregated, Zendaya has her own television show and Dora and Doc McStuffins pop.
You are right, however, as recently as 2010, CNN reconducted the Clark study to find:
“Nearly 60 years after American schools were desegregated by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and more than a year after the election of the country’s first Black president, white children have an overwhelming white bias, and black children also have a bias toward white, according to a new study commissioned by CNN.”
At the time of The Clark’s study, in the 1940’s, Black dolls did not even exist. They were forced to paint white dolls Black in order to conduct the experiment. Nearly 60 years later, there are Black dolls available, but the results are still the same: mainstream media and imagery in America promotes low self-esteem for children of color/darker hues.
I know that I will be successful teaching my girls everything that was taught to me regarding Black history, pride and culture. But no matter what I do in our home and with them socially, they will still encounter a media and entertainment world from books, to magazines, film, and TV that does not over supply them with positive imagery of their own reflection. As their mother and a happily brown colored woman, it is my duty to filter their atmosphere with as much reinforcement of positive imagery as possible. My Black girls will play with Black dolls only.
Clarissa Joan is a spiritual life coach and editor-in-chief of The Clarissa Joan Experience. She resides in Philadelphia with her husband, their two girls, and a yorkie named Ace. Clarissa is also an expert in impact investing. She is the Communications Associate at Impact America Fund.
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