What are Children Subconsciously Learning? (JOUR 4250)

Recently in my race, gender and media course I was introduced to the Clark Doll Test. The test was first conducted in the 1960s by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. The purpose of the experiment was to measure the self-esteem of black children. The kids are asked to choose between a white baby doll and black baby doll when asked questions pertaining to which doll is mean, which doll is nice, which doll they look like and which doll they would rather play with. Here is a video of the same test conducted in 2007:

The majority of the children say they would rather play with the white doll and that it is the nice doll. When asked why, one child responds, “because she’s white.” They choose the black doll when asked which doll is bad or mean. When asked why, one child responds, “because it’s black.” But the children are able to identify themselves with the black doll. I cannot explain how deeply this saddens me. The first time I watched the video I was absolutely shocked and frightened. Is this really what the majority of black children think? Why are they taught that light skin is better? Surely this can not still be true in the 21st century! Unfortunately it may be.

In 2010, Anderson Cooper conducted an interview with black and white children that cuts even deeper. (I highly suggest clicking the link above and watching the video).

All the children are aware that there are different skin colors. Some of the black children say that light skin is better than dark skin and that adults prefer light skin. One child says, “I don’t like the way brown looks.” A majority of the children believe that dark skin means ugly and dumb. A white child understands that black people were treated differently than white people, but believes that it no longer occurs. He says he sees no difference, but that some people might think black people are ugly and white people are attractive.

There is a very small minority of black children in this study who firmly state that they see no difference in any of the skin colors and that everyone should be treated equally. They believe that every skin color is beautiful. These children (and parents of these children) give me hope.

Even some children who are mixed (e.g. black and white) identify with the darker color and believe that it is ugly. How are mixed children supposed to identify? Why is a child who is black and white identified as black and not white? Or white and not black? Maybe it should be their choice.

In our society, the norm is to identify by color. I think the norm should be changed. Why does it matter what skin color anyone is? The color of your skin shouldn’t set you apart from anyone else. Culture, personal beliefs and personality should. So if we are all humans, equal and identify as Americans, then why are we still divided by our skin color?! The answer is social learning theory. Not everything children learn through social situations is wrong of course, but learning that there should be separation by skin color is limiting children (and has limited adults throughout history).

We need to teach every child not to focus on skin color. That we are all equal. There is no way to weed out every racist or bigot, but our generation can take a step in the right direction and set an example for generations to come. Equal treatment of every human being will always be the goal.


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