How would one go about analyzing Kenneth Clark's research on racial attitudes, especially the so-called "Doll Study," and how would one build upon Clark's research?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Kenneth and Mamie Clark, the African-American husband-and-wife team that conducted illuminating if morally questionable studies on racism during the late 1930s and 1940s were interested in determining the root causes of racist attitudes and how the environment created by racial segregation influenced the emotional development of African-American children.  By placing individual black children in a room with two dolls, one white, the other black, and asking the children a series of questions regarding their preferences between the two dolls, they were able to document the feelings of inferiority instilled in black children as a result of those environmental factors.  Among the list of questions asked of each child were the following:

“Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with”

“Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll”

“Show me the doll looks ‘bad’”

“Give me the doll that looks like a white child”

“Give me the doll that looks like a colored child”

“Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child”

“Give me the doll that looks like you.”

By developing the series of questions in the manner that they did, the Clarks demonstrated that the African-American children identified their own skin color with negativity.  The overwhelming majority of the children of all ages and from both the northern and southern regions of the country selected the white doll as the preferable one with which to play and identify, although, interestingly, the southern children were far more likely to positively identify with the colored doll than with the white one.  The northern children, according to a 1947 article the Clark’s wrote describing their research, made “fewer identifications with the colored doll and more identifications with the white doll than do the southern children.”  Significantly, the Clarks noted that “a higher percentage of southern children, compared to northern children, prefer to play with the colored doll or think that it is the ‘nice’ doll.” [Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P. Clark, “Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children,” i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/13/doll.study.1947.pdf]

Whether the Clarks’ research was morally appropriate in subjecting young children to what developed as an emotionally difficult experiment for some of them is a matter for debate.  The results of the study were interesting, and did illuminate the nefarious ramifications of institutionalized racism for the development of future generations.  How a researcher today could build upon the Clarks’ research would probably involve a slightly more sophisticated and sensitive method of determining how environmental factors influence thinking on race.  Enough understanding of this issue has evolved, however, to where the “fix” has been identified with the establishment of multiculturalism as a legitimate academic field of study.  Generational differences among African-Americans during the 1950s and 1960s involved the growing militancy and political activism of increasing numbers of African-Americans, supported by landmark developments like Brown v. The Board of Education, which, in many instances, was viewed with alarm by older generations whose entire lives were spent living under segregation.  The potential for research that builds upon that of the Clarks is entirely viable.

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