Black or White Kids Doll?

The Black and White doll test. I’m referring to the famous experiments done by psychologists Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark in the United States during the 1940’s. They were done to test children’s attitudes about race. The results of their experiments showed that black children preferred to play with white dolls as opposed to black dolls. The children they tested also associated positive attributes to the white dolls and negative ones to the black dolls. 3 major papers were published between 1939 and 1940.

I have to admit that I hadn’t really known about this test up until about a year ago. I might have come across it earlier but it just didn’t register. The experiments have been carried out in more recent years  by documentary film makers, psychologists, TV stations etc in the US and other western countries. And the results haven’t changed much.

Now the tests were initially done in the United States and the context of race relations and the civil rights struggle. I’ve always wondered what the result would be if this test was done with children in several countries in Africa. How would they react? Would they choose the white doll over the black doll? Or in areas where you don’t see many Caucasians and a doll with a lighter shade of brown was used, what would happen? Would a middle class Nigerian child from say, the north of the country or living in Lagos prefer to play with a white doll over a black doll? And if so, why? Would the social influences behind the child’s decision be the same as those as a black child in the U.S. ?

You could argue that since in Nigeria and other black African countries, everyone from the President to doctors, lawyers etc are black. So children see positive black role models everywhere so the test is irrelevant within the African context. But then what about on the international level? Most African countries are only about 50 to 60 years post colonial. One thing I can remember my mother telling me is that before she even stepped foot in London, she knew everything about it from her colonial teachers in school in Nigeria. Even today most of the media our children consume within Africa is from outside of Africa. Even though things are slowly beginning to change, I’d still say that most of the worlds media output paints Africa in an inferior light.

On top of that, we also have our own race and colour issues which play out. In my opinion, the Black and White Doll test could be very relevant in modern day Africa. It would be interesting to see the results of such an experiment carried out on African children today.

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About BinoandFino

A new black cartoon made in Africa for kids all over the world.
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6 Responses to Black or White Kids Doll?

  1. It would be interesting. Perhaps you could organise that in your spare time, Adamu!
    We have a white-boy doll with all his bits and a brown(Maori)-girl doll with all hers, which were given to our sons. They have played with both, but I would say they cuddled the white one more. I was never sure if that was because it was a boy – like them – or white – like them.
    It really guts me that so much comes down to the colour of our skin – even for kids. Our youngest is *very* blond and has blue eyes and it astounds me the range of people who comment on his appearance. From all races and backgrounds.

    • BinoandFino says:

      Hi Karyn,

      You know I actually thought of carrying out the test! But I’d love professionals to do it. It’s such a complex issue. Like you mentioned. Did your sons play with the White boy doll more because it was a boy doll or because it was white? Being an ex-young boy, it’s probably because it was a boy doll!:-)

      I think race and color will always be an issue. I think it’s part of the human condition. What’s important for me is reducing the negative aspects of that whole conversation. I don’t actually care if someone thinks say, a blonde blue eyed girl is cuter than a cute black girl. That’s fine and just personal preference. Because it happens the other way around. The problem is when people start to think one is BETTER than the other. That’s when the issues start for me.

  2. Absolutely. There is a book called Nurture Shock in which there is a chapter called Why White Parents don’t talk about Race with their Children. Basically the writers suggest that many white parents think kids will see beyond appearances if they mix with kids of lots of races, but differences aren’t mentioned. It turns out kids automatically notice the differences and the not discussing makes it seem like a taboo subject.
    ( I think you’re right about the doll…girls are pretty uncool around here at the moment…)

    • BinoandFino says:

      Interesting. I think if it’s not mentioned at all then kids will make their minds up based on what they hear and see from the media and other points. A lot of the time this can be subtly or overtly negative towards ,in my case black Africans. The same can apply to Aborigines, Indians that used to be of a specific caste system, basically anybody that’s deemed to be at the bottom of the pecking order. Right now globally, I’d argue that black Africans are at the bottom of that pecking order when it comes to media power and influence. So as kids can soak this background info like sponges if their parents don’t tell them how to interpret it I suppose.

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