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.
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.