Our Own Clark Doll Experiment

When I knew I was having a daughter, there were few things I was certain of, well very few things. But one of them was the uncomfortable realization that some day the world we live in would show its ugly side and tell my beautiful brown baby that she ain’t pretty. It would say your full lips are not attractive, your figure is undesirable, your hair; well don’t even get me started on the kinky hair conversations I am sure she will have to have.  To combat that, I decided I had no choice in accepting this mission, but I would do my very best to constantly tell my daughter from day one how beautiful and special she is, in hopes of placing a few positive words in her survival backpack.

Those close to us know, I monitor the dolls in our home, the few television programs she’s exposed to, the company we keep and the toddlers she spends time with to make sure there is equitable representation of positive African Americans. Okay all except the dolls; she does not own a Caucasian doll, I am sure that’s not equitable, but it’s a decision I made a long time ago. Let’s be real, the iCarly’s of the world are everywhere, but poor Tiana still hasn’t made it to Disney’s castle in Florida.

To make an extremely long story shorter, a few months ago, while away in Atlanta on a business trip. I snuck away to the Aquarium for a family outing. Morgan was in awe, I highly recommend a visit if you have not made it there yet. As in most tourist attractions on the way out, you can’t really leave without walking through the souvenir shop. Well we all know what an excellent job they do of putting expensive toys right at eye level of our curious, tantrum having toddlers. My husband and I almost made it out and then; she saw it.

“OOOOhhhhh mommy can I have that?” Now of course I saw the almost $20 stuffed mermaids that looked home made, but I ask “can you have what?” “That,” she says pointing and stretching not only my eyes, but my arms towards the pile that was broken up into blonde hair mermaids and mermaids with braids. My husband and I look at each other for confirmation and decide; heck we are on somewhat of a vacation, sure she can have one. Now usually when confronted with an option of dolls, my daughter always picks the one closest to her complexion. In fact, for the longest time, she was convinced that Princess Tiana was the ONLY princess. But as a Chocolate Mommy, I constantly look for confirmation of her self-esteem and self-image and both my husband and I were curious to see which mermaid she would choose. She stands there, 2 feet high, puts her left finger on her left side of her cheek cause that’s what she does when she is thinking about something and she boldly grabs the blonde mermaid.

Now at this moment, my head drops a little and I notice an African American male worker watching this scenario, but I have a bigger fish to fry than his nosiness. This is serious. What do I do? This has never happened before, so I look to my husband for support. Without words we understand we have got to address this right here and right now. Truthfully, I think I froze, so my husband walks to the pile and picks up the one with braids and says, “I like this one Morgan, her hair is like yours. It’s so pretty.” Whew, ain’t nothing like a spouse that has your back. So I reiterate, “yes Morgan, let’s get that one.” Without hesitation, it’s done, she is happy and we have just been put on notice. As we checked out, the African American male worker that watched this entire thing like an episode of the Cosby Show, smiles and says “my mom would have said the same thing.” Now I reserve judgement on if his mom was redirecting him buying a doll or someone else, but recognized his effort to comfort us in our decision. Now of course I am aware of the famous 1939 and 1950 Clark Doll Experiment, when black children overwhelming chose white dolls over black dolls, but I didn’t know those children. I didn’t raise those children. I was prayerful that in a positive, controlled, pro-black environment that my daughter would at least make it out of pre-school without such bias. Now what?


7 thoughts on “Our Own Clark Doll Experiment

  1. Great points. I myself have never owned a caucasian doll. As I sit and read this I can only picture the little caucasians girls at my daughters school holding african american dolls. I can’t help but wonder are they becoming more accepting of our looks than we are of ourselves? However I have to agree that we need to start early with positive cultural exposure and letting our little ones know they are beautiful just the way they are.

    • Interesting thoughts Kristi. Initially, I felt a little guilty; just a little about not being “fair” by not having Caucasian dolls, but I’m with you, I would be surprised if any of my daughters school mates have African American dolls; other than Tiana.

  2. There is always a sort of wrestling with how to raise our children in a racially conscience society. I struggled with it because my Christianity and my ethnicity sometimes don’t match. However, as I learn the Words of the sacred text, I am more comfortable as long as I don’t teach or imply racial superiority or inferiority for any group. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but my sons and daughters are all grown and care about people in general and have never expressed a preference for any group except African Americans, but not as a “us against them” mindset, rather, “I am delighted to be who I am and African American”!

    • Thanks Michael for your insight. Your outcome of African American pride is my goal with my children, but I am struggling to instill this when everything she hears and sees says different. Since this incident I have tried to watch her movies to look for subliminal messages. Her two favorite movies are Princess and the Frog and Lion King, she can recite either of these movies, line by line. In Princess and the Frog, the “bad” man is shadow man; he also has the darkest complexion and Prince NaVeen has a tan, but that’s about it. In Lion King, the good lions are light and the one “bad” lion “Scar” is the black. Although she is the darkest in her pre-school class, she is surrounded by cousins that look like her and play groups with African American children, yet I can see the struggle beginning in her eyes. I fear for her.

  3. I’ve always been a believer in strong African American families, culture and strengths. I love the way your husband and yourself rose together to build strength and reaffirm the beauty of our skin, qualities, etc. The need to do this will occur many times throughout life…selecting values, careers, educational choices, moral behaviors etc. all of which is according to our belief in ourselves and, hopefully not what society would have us see and believe. Interestingly, my daughter has had every doll in the book lol. But, my special name for her is “mpg” “my pretty girl”…to reinforce in her, my belief of her inner and outer beauty as a black, gifted, strong young woman:)

  4. That’s an amazing story!! It just goes to show the level of cultural conditioning we are all exposed to every single day here in America.

  5. Wow. I too have your concerns. I must say because I wanted to mix things up after having all African American dolls for 3 years, this past Christmas she got Strawberry Shortcake and a Barbee Head. The first thing my Aunt asked when we walked into my GMa’s is “where’s the black doll?” I must say, I just told her my daughter age 3 needs to know all races, shades and eventually cultures. “She has a Dora, too” But man, I thought I was the only one making sure there is no superiority or inferiority and watching for subliminal messages surrounding my Princess, too! This balance is our responsibility by far.

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