[The Kenneth and Mammie Clark doll experiment
] involved a child being presented with two dolls. Both of these dolls were completely identical except for the skin and hair color. One doll was white with yellow hair, while the other was brown with black hair.The child was then asked questions inquiring as to which one is the doll they would play with, which one is the nice doll, which one looks bad, which one has the nicer color, etc. The experiment showed a clear preference for the white doll among all children in the study. (x
This study from the late 30s and 40s shows the biting effects of white supremacy on perceptions of blackness even amongst young black children. But you know what’s most tragic about the experiment? It was replicated in recent years and the results were exactly the same. I grew up wishing I had wavier “less nappy” hair. I grew up wishing I had light colored eyes or could squeeze light colored contacts onto my irises. I grew up wishing that I was 40 or 50% white instead of being “just 25%.” I understand how this self loathing feels and everytime I see this picture it brings me close to tears. Because I know that if this experiment had been conducted on me as a black child growing up in America, I would have also chosen the white doll without missing a beat.
And people just don’t seem to get how deeply infused white supremacy is into our media and cultural fabric. You never explicitly have to tell a black child “well white people are better than you and you should hate yourself for being black” in order for you to know that is the operating logic of our racist society at large. As black people, in addition to everything else we have to deal with from police brutality, redlining and the school-to-prison pipeline to the disproportionate violence against trans black women, we also have to struggle with this internalized racism and self hatred on top of everything.
We are so taught to hate ourselves in this country that quite a few black people bleach our skins. We are so taught to hate ourselves that black men in droves talk about how they would “never date a black woman,” particularly a dark skinned one, and flaunt their white and non-black significant others about while openly degrade black women. We are so taught to hate ourselves that to this day at 24 I still struggle to overcome the enormous self hatred that I’ve been taught from day one growing up in this racist, white supremacist and virulently antiblack country. So much time has passed since this experiment and yet so little has changed in our nation where white supremacy and antiblackness continue to reign supreme. And this picture reminds me of this fact every single time.
So glad my mother didn’t allow me and my little sister to have white dolls!
Responses like the above disturb me because they totally miss the point. The issue is not having white dolls or not, the issue is growing up in a racist, white supremacist society and world. The reduction of my post to that point completely obfuscates that point, and it also deflects completely from the reality that white supremacy is a system which enacts violence with or without white dolls or even white people present.
As Junot Diaz says:
"The reality is even if we took every white person on Earth and put them on a space ship and sent them to outer space white supremacy wouldn’t miss a beat."
This is because we have all so deeply internalized the same white supremacist value systems which hurt and malign us, which is the point of Kenneth and Mammie Clark’s experiment. Why else is colorism, particularly as deployed against black women due to the racialized misogyny they face, still such a pronounced problem in the black community even when white people aren’t around? As bell hooks says in her Cultural Criticism & Transformation, “when we use the term white supremacy it doesn’t just evoke white people, it evokes a political world that we can all frame ourselves in relationship to.” White supremacy was created by and for white people, and the violence of that system of domination has permeated our minds as black people and POC to the point that many of us reproduce those oppressive systems in our interactions with one another and turn on ourselves with self-loathing as well. That is one of the many malign effects for us growing up and living in our racist, white supremacist society.
So this simplistic idea that not having white dolls somehow protects us and removes us from the system is a lie. This idea that you can escape all of the violence deployed against black bodies by our society simply by not having white dolls is also patently false. If the demonization of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride even in death has not made it clear to anyone at this point—there are no safe spaces for us as black people and not even death can protect us from violence being perpetrated against us.
And so to be frank, the point of my post point-black is not “get rid of white dolls in your home” and magically solve the problem, no, what I’m saying is that the problem is white supremacy and the only answer is the complete eradication of this system of domination and its interlocking counterparts of patriarchy, capitalism and imperialism. That is the only way to stop this violence once and for all.