by Marily Sasota Gayeta
In 1939, Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark, a husband-wife team, both African-American psychologists, investigated the effects of segregation on black American children. In their experiment, they showed two dolls to 253 black kids , whose age ranged from three to seven. The dolls looked almost exactly alike — the same size, the same hairstyle, the same shape of eyes , etc. —except for the color. One was black, one was white. The children were asked different questions. For questions like “ Which doll looks nice ? “ and “ Which doll would you like to play with ?” , almost all children chose the white doll. One child justified his choice with “ Because the white doll is clean.” When they were asked questions like ,” Which doll looks bad ? ” or “ Which doll is not nice? ”, majority chose the black doll.
The final question was: “ Which doll looks like you ?”. Many of the children became emotional as they pointed to the black doll. Immature as they were, they realized that they rejected the doll that looked like them, and that they were, in fact, rejecting themselves. One boy said “ I am actually white , but I got a suntan last summer .” Two of the children also cried hard and ran out of the experiment room.
The experiment was done at a time when African Americans were denied so many rights and were struggling for equal treatment . The Clarks concluded that the responses were a clear sign of self-rejection and a feeling of inferiority brought about by the political and social environment. The effects, based on their expert opinion, may even be irreversible. The results of the Clarks’ experiment were eventually used as a basis by the US Supreme Court to declare segregation in public schools as unconstitutional.
This doll experiment had been replicated several times. One was done in 2005 by film maker Kiri Davis. The result was the same . Seventy-one percent of the 21 black children said that the white doll was prettier. Imagine , that was 66 years later , a time when black Americans were supposed to enjoy full rights and privileges as the whites. Those sixty-six years saw the rise of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan , Will Smith , Tyra Banks —and yet , black children still felt inferior .
In 2009 , a media company in the US conducted the same experiment for the show “ Good Morning America”. The percentage of black girls who showed preference for the white doll was lower , 47 % , but this is still significant . Many of the boys said both were pretty. The change can be attributed to the fact that early that year, January 2009 , Barack Obama assumed the presidency of the US, bringing the positive spotlight to him, his wife and two daughters.
It’s already 2020. Dark-skinned children born and living in many parts of the world are still made to feel that they are not pretty or handsome or good enough . Stereotypes and prejudices are being perpetuated in so many ways . Racism still persists even in advanced, culturally diverse countries . Even among members of the same ethnic groups that are naturally endowed with dark or brown skin, there is colorism : a form of bias in favor of lighter-skinned ones .
Colorism is prevalent in Southeast Asia. Brown-skinned children are bullied in school. They are called all sorts of names . Dark-skinned employees are usually the butt of jokes in the office. These things have persisted for a long, long time –but it does not mean that we should keep quiet about it .
Obviously, the effects of European colonial conquests have remained in the minds of many people. Western-centric or European-centric mentality holds that almost everything from the West is superior and worth emulating , including skin color. People in former colonies have not been able to disentangle themselves from this mentality, despite being technically and officially free from their former masters.
Colorism is also being indirectly perpetuated by billion-dollar corporations that sell beauty products. Their advertisements are relentless because they know fully well that the public mind is malleable . In Southeast Asia —particularly in the Philippines , Thailand , Malaysia —- mainstream media and online media are full of advertisements for whitening products . Billboards show models and endorsers flaunting their white complexion.
Some of the ads go too far, insulting people with dark skin. From dusk till dawn, wherever they look, young children in these countries are bombarded with propaganda that dark skin is inferior. The sad thing is, ordinary adult members of their societies are taking the lead. Social media is rife with verbal insults against dark-skinned people.
Of course, changing one’s skin color is ultimately a personal choice. One is free to buy all the products she wants, or to undergo all the medical procedures, if she really wants to have a whiter complexion . But that is not the thesis of this article.
As proven by the doll experiments, socially-tolerated forms of prejudice do a lot of damage to children. Segregation by color, of course , is no longer the issue, but we know racism still exists . Also ,media-brainwashing and consumerism are just as harmful . Bullying is just as damaging . For a kid who is a constant victim of bullying, going to school is a daily torture .
If you are a parent with dark-skinned children, you have to assure your children that their skin is nothing to be ashamed of. Build their confidence and teach them how to deal with bullying. If you are a teacher, do not allow any dark-skinned child ( or any child for that matter ) to be the object of cruel banters. Show your class that you will not allow bullying and any form of harassment your class. If you are a responsible adult, explain how businesses and the media work, and how they can affect people’s mind –set and behavior.
Do not tolerate racism and colorism , even in the name of ” fun.”
It took a pair of dolls to move the US Supreme Court to make a historic decision that paved the way for integration ( white and black kids studying together ) in American schools. May these two inanimate dolls remind people in different countries what Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963 :
I have a dream that someday, my four children will be judged , not by the color of their skin , but by the content of their character .”