Which Doll Would You Choose? (#2)

Meron Yared

Last year I had the opportunity to attend a retreat that discussed how structural discrimination influenced today’s society. The instructor asked us if we felt offended by this general statement: Black people can’t swim. I thought about it and at first my peers and I didn’t think much of it. The instructor then delved into the origins of that stereotype. She told us that during the 1920’s and 1930’s there was an abundance of municipal pools that were closed off to the African American community due to segregation. However, during the late 1940s and 1950’s, when the federal government (made) segregation unconstitutional, white swimmers abandoned the pools. The pools got shut down because the African American community didn’t have enough money to keep up with the maintenance and therefore black people were not exposed to swimming pools any longer (Public). It was crazy to me how a stereotype like that had a deep rooted history [of racism]. This idea of that remints of past history still influencing today’s “progressive” society sparked an interest in me.

Coming out of the slavery and reconstruction era and studying the ways in which racism has shaped the policies of systems such as education, transportation, housing, and prisons was fascinating and repulsing at the same time. For this blog assignment I wanted to explore the how the practice of segregation prior to the 1960’s is still present today. There are two forms of segregation we learned during lecture: de jure and de facto segregation.

De jure segregation is racial segregation enforced by laws such as Jim Crow. The Jim Crow era was between 1877 to 1960. It was a series of anti-black laws moreover, “Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism” (Pilgrim). De facto segregation is racial segregation that happened by “fact” without the enforcement of the law. As the racial tensions in the South increased many African Americans took part in the Great Migration in order to gain social mobility and equality. However, when they moved from the rural South to urban areas in the North, “African Americans faced segregation and discrimination. Even where there were no explicit laws, de facto segregation, or segregation by unwritten custom or tradition, was a fact of life” (Rothstein).

Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark were two married psychologists who conducted important studies on children’s behavior and were very active in the Civil Rights movement. They both attended Howard University which is where they met. They both wanted to improved the social services for the youth in Harlem but they were famously known for their Doll Test in the 1940s. The “Doll Test” was an experiment designed by psychologist Kenneth and Mamie Clark to study the psychological effects segregation had on African American children (NAACP). In the experiment Clark showed African American children between the ages of six and nine two identical dolls, one white and the other black. They asked the children a series of questions asking them to identify the “nice” and “bad” doll. The picture above shows an African American boy choosing the white doll over the black doll. This study proved that segregation was distorting the psyche of African American children. The study was instrumental in the Supreme Court’s decision to eradicate the doctrine of “separate but equal” in Brown v. Board of Education.

Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark case that inspired the Civil Rights Movement and the beginning to the end of de jure segregation. Several African American children were denied admittance to their local schools because the school was segregated. The issue was determining if, “The race-based segregation of children into “separate but equal” public schools (was) constitutional” (Brown). The NAACP argued that segregation was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Brown). The NAACP used the Doll Test to prove the effects segregation had on children. When the Clarks conducted the experiment 63% of the black children said that white doll was the “nice” one (The Clark). Dr. Kenneth Clark concluded that, “To separate [African-American children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone” (NAACP). The court ruled race-based segregation of children into “separate but equal” public schools was unconstitutional (Brown). The case ended segregation in public schools across the country but during lecture we discussed how the case refrained from insisting upon a quick transition. The argument could be made that the case, even though a victory, did not mark the end of of a state mandated racial segregation in public schooling.

In Richard Rothstein’s “Modern Segregation” article he makes the argument that, “The notion of de facto segregation is a myth, although widely accepted in a national consensus that wants to avoid confronting our racial history” (Rothstein). Throughout this course we have done extensive reading to see nothing about racism is “in fact”. The definition of racism is, “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others” (Dictionary). During lecture we learned that even though laws were passed to ensure fair housing, housing discrimination was very much present. After the desegregation of schools came white resistance. Public schools brought magnet programs such as AP and IB so that the school would technically be integrated however, children would be in segregated classes. In today’s society we see that structural discrimination, our modern day segregation, effects the social mobility of minorities. It goes like this: one’s social status affects their neighborhood, their neighborhood affects their education, education affects their ability their social mobility. This domino effect has kept minority groups from being able to move up from their social status.

When I talk about race with my white friends I sometimes have a hard time getting them to understand the day to day micro aggressions that I face due to the color of my skin. For instance, I don’t have to explain to my black friends about how frustrated I get when I get followed around in the store because the same thing happens to them and they understand what the implications are. Or how embarrassing it is to hear a car doors lock as soon as you pass them. However, it’s easier for me to explain the prison industrial complex and how the government systematically passes policies that are racially discriminatory against minority groups. It’s hard to sometimes recognize when one is subconsciously racist versus consciously racist. For instance, one can say Donald Trump is a racist by hearing his views on how to deal with the immigration issue and his views toward minority groups. We can all see the harm in having someone with that mentality leading this country because minority groups such as African Americans and Latinos might lose certain rights. However, its hard to tell someone that the fear they have as an African American walks by or the closing of doors as they pass them or how parents tell their kids not to play with the brown child can also do as much harm as the conscious racists. I’m bring this up because de jure and de facto segregation, even though different by definition, were detrimental to the African American community. Looking back at the picture of the boy holding up the white doll, I wonder what the results would be if we made a modern day “Doll Test”. Ponder that.

Work Cited

“Brown v. Board of Education – Case Brief Summary.” Lawnix Free Case Briefs RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“NAACP Legal Defense Fund : Defend, Educate, Empower.” Brown at 60: The Doll Test. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Pilgrim, David. ” What Was Jim Crow.” Jim Crow Museum: Origins of Jim Crow. Ferris State University, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Public Swimming Pools’ Divisive Past.” NPR. NPR, 28 May 2007. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

Rothstein, Richard. “Modern Segregation.” Economic Policy Institute. N.p., 6 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“The Clark Doll Experiment.” Abagond. N.p., 29 May 2009. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

2 thoughts on “Which Doll Would You Choose? (#2)

  1. Your title definitely reflected what your blog was about, however your visual representation was a little hard to understand at first. It seems as though part of the image may have been cut out? I could only see one doll in the image you used. However your visual representation did do a good job of depicting what your blog was about. I would like to know how your cultural artifact changed over time or if it changed at all, so in other words I wonder how/if over time the results of the doll test would have changed at all or stayed the same. You did a really great job of connecting your artifact with what we have learned throughout the course. My only suggestions would be to try and use an image that is the right size so we can see everything in the photo. Also it would have been interesting to read about whether or not you think the doll test’s significance changed over time or remained/remains the same.


  2. 1. I like your title. Not only does it give the idea about what the blog is about, but it gives us a question to think about.
    2. I like the picture you chose, it shows a very clear depiction of the doll experiment and how the results looked. It clearly shows the preference for the white dolls and how this transfers to living people.
    3. I would like to know a bit more background on the experiment and how it connects to segregation.
    4. The artifact is related pretty well to what we learned in the course. The artifact is discussed in relation to segregation and how segregated schools impact children.
    5. I think that the artifact could be addressed a bit earlier on in the blog. Overall an enjoyable blog, I really liked the way you brought in personal experiences.


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