"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Black Doll White Doll

In her last article on New Demographic, Carmen Van Kerckhove mentions a short documentary filmed by 17-years old Kiri Davis as a high school project: A Girl Like Me. She decided to repeat an experiment conducted by psychologist Kenneth B. Clark in 1954, in which he showed a black and a white doll to black children, and asked them to choose the one they preferred. The vast majority chose the white doll.

Over fifty years later, Kiri conducted the same test on 21 black children in New York City, and 15 chose the white doll.

Kiri Davis's experiment is conducted in the US. But I'd bet that if someone conducted the same experiment here, in India, the vast majority, if not all the Indian children, would also choose the white doll over a brown or a black one.

Maybe this experiment should be conducted everywhere in the world. Because seeing the child who not only chooses the white doll, but when asked to show the bad one, chooses the black doll, and then, when asked what doll looks like her, hesitates a fraction of a second, and then pushes the black doll towards the filmmaker... I don't know that I can ever forget the expression on the face of that child. Carmen's title for that article is "What is the human cost of racism?" Well, we see it on the face of that little girl. And it is heartbreaking.


Valentina Acava Mmaka said...

Interesting Katia! I remember Malcom X when he was in jail and started educating himself reading the dictionary every day, from A to Z. He said that the word BLACK means always something negative: "black sheep", "black letter day", "black mood","black as thunder" while the word WHITE means "pure, "innocent". He recognized that racism starts from the language. Of course languages have developed during the centuries and several socio- cultural changes (colonialism) contributed in fixing and spreading stereotypes. Remember Samuel Johnson 's dictionary (1775), he wrote the definition of "mulatto": " one begot between a white and a black, as a mule between different species of animals"!!!
Back to dolls... I tried Davis' experiment on my daughters and ... when they were little aged, they used even to draw themselves with pink (read pink) skin and long straight hair, then at four they started being conscious of their identity and since then they represent themselves with brown skin and black curley hairs. Two of them would choose a black doll even if they will love to see a blonde -white one... but in my case I can say is not a matter of choosing the white or the black doll (see post I sent you on your "RAnting about Barbie") but the idea behind that choice.Sometimes the stereotype on skin colour meets the sterotype on female. It is very sad and heartbreaking too.
We still live in a world where sentences like "you, dirty nigger go back to your country" or "only you can do that as you are black" (referred to an artwork like mixing glue and sand) are said to foriegn mates every day at school! Intolerance is much in the language ...and we know, the language cement ideas and feelings...
We, as children's writers, have a great chance to start breaking certain stereotypes and focus on how the new children of today can preserve their own identiy avoiding to be filled in so frustrating categories.

Valentina Acava Mmaka said...

It's me again, I found this intersting link (maybe you have already seen it!) http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-brown.html which also shows Kenneth Clatk's "Doll Test".

Katia said...

Valentina, Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. I've wanted to reply to your other comment about the Barbie post, but have not had the time. You know what? I think that I'd be very apprehensive to try that experiment with my children. My older one sometimes says things like ; I wish I were like you (blond straight hair, blue eyes, white skin) and I never know if it's because she doesn't like being brown, or because she wants to be like mom. The little one is not yet four, and I'd be curious to see how she reacts. Or course, when my older one says that, I reply that I wish I had her lovely cinnamon color as I would no longer need to sit in a sun to get a little tan, etc, etc. Still, is this enough? Of course, language has been perverted. I often think about what you mention, the way black is always used in languages to define bad or dirty or dangerous, whereas white always seems to mean pure, angelic, bla bla bla. Agh, it is all so frustrating, indeed.

Valentina Acava Mmaka said...

Oh! Then we are, as we say in Italy "on the same boat". My six years old daughter (the youngest) represent herself as brown and curley and she is proud of being half Kenyan, but dreams to have at least long hairs and straight like mine.I think because in her school there aren't children with her same curley hairs so what she sees is only herself and her sisters. So every week I try to invent new hairstyles, patiently making plait with colourful beeds letting my fantasy run and trying through this simple action of combing to valorize the beauty of her hairs.
I know also she feels "down" when other children pull her saying things like "with those hairs you look like a bush"!!! When my second was told this she answered "well, it's nice that you can see a walking bush, then it's a great news, here at school there is the first bush with two legs"!!!. When she told me this, I was so surprised and very happy. But not all the children are the same.
For sure they are in the age where identifying with mum is normal and the girls see in their mother a "model" of inspiration, in their growth they will change of course, what we can do as mothers is to make sure their identity grows stronger day by day, through their direct perception of the environment where they live.
I think you should not be scared of asking your daughter the question. Maybe you'll find yourself positively surprised and if not, you'll have a chance to investigate the reasons of her choice. I read in one book of Jostein Gaarder that most of the times questions are more important then answers... (he meant that we don't need to do complicated questions to show how intellectual or whatsoever like ... the answer make the difference... and the more simple question is, the more complicated is the answer... like the one my older girl did when she was two and a half: "why dad is black and mum is white"(very simple question, isn't it?) and I had to write a full book to explain it to her!!!!
I ask you a question: do yor girls partecipate in your writing work? Are them your first readers of your drafts?

Nandini said...

So touching and disturbing ...
Thanks for helping me make up my mind what to post for my WIP this month.

Katia said...

Valentina, there is so much to say, and the comment section seems too narrow for that. I will write you an email. But thank you again for visiting and adding your interesting, thoughtful comments.

Katia said...

Thanks, Nandini. I very much look forward to reading that WIP.

PaulaKayMac said...

Katia this is so surprising though maybe it shouldn't be. We've come so far but still have a long way to go.

I'd be interested to know what a white child would choose. Any studies on this? I made sure my daughter grew up playing with both black, asian, and white dolls.


Katia said...

Hey, Paula, thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure that having white children do this test would demonstrate anything. This here is related to self esteem issues that are born because black or brown children grow up in a world where whiteness rules and comes to be seen as representing what's good and pretty. So, a long way to go, indeed.