The black doll/white doll experiment

black doll

IN the 1940s, psychologists asked a group of black American children which of two almost identical dolls they liked most. The only difference was colour.

One was white and the other black. The black children invariably picked the white doll.
Asked which doll was good, most children again picked the white one. And most described the black doll, the one that looked more like them, as “bad” or “ugly”.

The psychologists concluded this was proof of internalised racism. Perhaps a sign of the times.

But a more recent study came up with the same results. Filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the experiment with 21 black children in New York.
In her powerful seven-minute documentary, A Girl Like Me, Kiri presented the children, 4 and 5, with two almost identical dolls — a black and white one.
Their conclusion was the same as the children in the 1940s.

“These children, even though they are four and five years old, they’re kind of like a mirror and they show exactly what they’ve been exposed to by society,” Ms Davis said.
We are bombarded with messages about what it means to be beautiful, good and likeable. We see ourselves through the perception of others.
And often we are not happy about the verdict. We often want to appear different.

C.J. Walker, the first African-American millionaire, hawked skin lighteners and hair straighteners to blacks at the turn of the 20th century.

One of the most popular products in contemporary India claims to make black skins look whiter.

Nothing is so commonplace as the wish to be considered attractive.

Millions of men and women, uncomfortable with their body images, turn to plastic surgery and hair implants.

The pharmaceutical companies make millions selling drugs to numb self-doubters while motivational speakers work hard to convince us we are OK.

It is an endless and futile struggle to think well of ourselves by pretending to be what we are not.

The well-worn messages of the self-help industry seek to elevate our ordinary narcissistic impulses into a religion.

Finding our true selves is realising we are made in God’s image.

God sees each of us as a precious treasure: beautiful beyond our imaginations.
Understanding that, we can begin to change.

God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way.. We can come to know that beauty isn’t always pretty.

It can be revealed in the perfection of a Michelangelo sculpture, but also in the wrinkles of an old woman or old man on the street; in the smile of a homeless person or in the people the world sees as plain and ordinary.



8 thoughts on “The black doll/white doll experiment

  1. Yes, I use this study in media classes sometimes. Extraordinary, isn’t it? I would hope things would be different today, but I’m not so sure. Look at the recent Thai ad for skin whitener that was shown and criticised across the world, and which claimed that those with whiter skin were more beautiful and successful (“Whiteness makes you win”).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Bryan,

    I noticed some things in the photo you included on this post…. The hands of the adult are “white” hands… The young “black” child is looking at the large “white” adult — seemingly for approval… If the “black” child was presented that choice by a “black” adult, would the results be different?… If a number of very young black and white children were presented with all sorts of toys with black and white dolls — doll houses for them to play in — cars for them to drive in — games for them to play — WITH NO ADULTS IN THE ROOM — but the experimenters watching through a double sided mirror — what might the results be?

    Just wondering……. One might also consider what sorts of home environments all of the children came from…. Were they all from ghetto neighborhoods — or were they from middle-class neighborhoods?



  3. “It can be revealed in the perfection of a Michelangelo sculpture, but also in the wrinkles of an old woman or old man on the street; in the smile of a homeless person or in the people the world sees as plain and ordinary.”

    The first shall be last and the last shall be first


  4. Signs of physical health are usually, I think, perceived as signs of beauty. Depending on the reasonably healthy people you usually see around you, any variation could seem unhealthy (even if it’s not) and therefore unattractive.

    I admire a coffee coloured skin, perhaps because I grew up thinking a tan was healthy. That has nothing to do with my feelings about the inner person. Even if I did consciously think them unhealthy, that would lead only to concern for their welfare.

    But when a person’s personality shines through, or leers thorough or scowls through, that makes the most impression. Yes, often seen in the wrinkles!


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