Posted on September 17, 2007

Which Doll Is ‘Bad’?

Steve Pope, The Voice (England), September 16, 2007

It’s a scene that will make any parent’s heart feel heavy. Sitting at a desk in a classroom, a small black girl looks at two dolls which are identical, apart from the fact that one is black and the other white.

The interviewer asks the four-year-girl, “Which one do you like?”

Without hesitation, the child picks the white doll and explains her choice.

“The white doll is the nice doll, because she has white skin.”

When asked “which doll is the bad doll?”

The girl, again, has no doubts. “The bad doll is the black doll, because it has black skin . . . I’m black too, but I don’t like myself because I’m black.”

A similar scenario is repeated time and time as the interviewer asks two dozen black kids at various London infants school, the same questions.

The perfect colour

One boy answers: “I want to play with the white doll, because it doesn’t have dark bits … the good doll is the white doll . . . the bad doll is the black one—she doesn’t really look very good.”

Another boy who looks awkward about answering the question says: “I would play with the white doll, because it hasn’t got scruffy hair like the other one.” When the interviewer mentions that both dolls have the same texture of hair, albeit one is blonde and one is black in colour, the boy continues: “The white doll is the nice doll . . . the bad doll is the black doll . . . the white doll is the good doll because she looks so perfect.”

At the end of the simple experiment, 80 per cent of the children, aged between four and five, chose the white doll as the one they liked best.

The result of the tests are part of a documentary by black internet TV station, Colourtelly, and was carried out by reporters Angelique Halliburton and Ade Oraedu.

Originally devised by pioneering black psychologist husband and wife team Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark in 1939, the tests aimed to show the effects of racial segregation on black self-esteem.

Colourtelly director, Carroll Thompson, thought it would be fascinating, 68 years after the Clark experiments, to see how black British children feel about themselves. The results were not what she expected.

Thompson said: “As a mother of two young girls, I was shocked and deeply saddened at what the test revealed. I would have thought that the Britain we now live in was a place where all children grew up with a love of themselves.”

“No one can help but to be moved by the responses of many of the kids, who clearly have some really negative images of themselves at such a young age,” she added.

Parents Clayton and Yvonne Alphonse, whose daughter took part in the tests and chose the white doll, were saddened about the outcome.

No surprise

Mum Yvonne said: “I’m not happy about it, but I’m not shocked. My daughter goes to a predominantly white school and a lot of her friends are white, and that’s what she sees around her in the media and so on. And, when we go shopping, for example, there are no positive images of people like her.”

Her sentiments were echoed by husband Clayton: “If there were more positive black images and more black teachers in schools, then life might change for our little kids, but what they see is whites on TV doing well and black people doing badly.”

“It’s hardly surprising that black kids grow up and don’t want to marry another black person. They’ll go towards white people because that’s what is seen as good.” Added Clayton.

The results of the Colourtelly doll test make disturbing viewing and are certain to make many parents question how their children are developing in what is supposed to be a multi-cultural, liberal society.

The issues of black self-esteem and self-worth raised in the programme are also of particular concern to professionals working in the field of child development.

Leading black psychiatrist Dr. Kwame McKenzie, who viewed the tests, was very concerned.

McKenzie said: “This is shocking. Already, at the age of five, these children are talking about ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

“Four- and five-year-olds are not that strong, in terms of their personalities and egos, so it’s not surprising that they want to conform. What they’re really saying is, ‘I want to play with the others.’


“What really bothers me is the idea that they think black is bad. Because that’s set—that will be part of their consciousness for a long time. That’s going to sit there—black is bad, I’m bad, black is bad. The self-loathing and the self-hatred that can build in the future is very worrying for people’s mental health.

“Where do the feelings of self-loathing come from? Everywhere. Four- and five-year-olds are like sponges—everything they see goes into their heads. Where are their black heroes? They don’t see their role models. And, even if you try to hide a newspaper from them, they still see headlines like ‘Black Crime’, ‘Black Muggers’. That all goes into the mind of a child—it’s all there. It’s seeping in slowly, and this is the worrying thing. Already, at this very young age, they’ve got what I call the ‘daily mail message: black bad/white good’.

“The Government’s response to multiculturalism is to put slavery on the national curriculum. But, slavery is negative. Everything in the national curriculum about black people is negative. It’s not about Africa and the great civilizations that were there before Europeans came. So, now, slavery is another negative thing that black school kids will have to learn about their identity—black is negative, whereas, white people are here like William Wilberforce—to help them out of servitude. That’s where it comes from,” McKenzie said.

Dr. Robert Beckford, a lecturer in culture at Oxford Brooks University, said: “It shows that as black parents, we need to work in regards to our children’s schooling. I don’t trust the education our kids get in school. We need to find out on a daily basis what they have been taught and to re-educate if necessary.”

“I make sure on a daily basis that I affirm black culture and heritage to my children. Not to make them feel superior, but to make them feel the equal of any child,” he added.

Learning mentality

Black children’s book publishing company, Tamarind Books, was set up by Verna Wilkins because she was so concerned about the lack of black people in her own children’s books.

“The learning material children are exposed to are predominately white. In the early years, children need a positive sense of self and personal value. They need to see positive black characters in their books to help achieve this.” said Wilkins.

“I do hope that many people see this programme and that it becomes a point of mass discussion. It’s a wake-up call, and we need to pay attention to what those children are saying.”