The Doll Test: How a Psychology Experiment Convinced a Generation of Teachers Little Children could be Racist

Many younger teachers now believe that children as young as four have been imprinted with racial bias by society and their parents. In this, CRT is a misnomer, a red herring. When we hear stories of schools segregating kids into African American and White classes or about White Privilege being taught in schools, what we are really talking about is anti-racist teaching, the belief that young children have to be programmed out of racial bias and an ideology which has increasingly come to see that racism, racial bias and implicit bias as the main causes of disparities by ethnicity in the West, when the empirical evidence points to historical legacy, socio-economics and, most important of all, family structure, as the primary causes of racial inequality in the West. A the root of the belief that young children are hopelessly infected by racial bias is the Doll Test, a psychology experiment which, although of major significance to the Civil Rights Era, may be deeply flawed in its conclusions.

For those unfamiliar with the Doll Test it is psychological test which gives young children a choice between a Black doll and a White doll and asks them a serious of questions about the dolls. At the time when the Doll Test was invented it was used to demonstrate that both White and Black children preferred the White Doll, which the researchers, the Clarks, argued was a result of feelings of inferiority inculcated by segregation in schools. Although historians differ on the importance of the Doll Test findings as evidence in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education which saw the Supreme Court strike down segregation in schools, the Doll Test itself gained a larger cultural prominence as a result, especially in the field of psychology.

2 Likes

I must have missed something, in what way is the doll test deeply flawed?

Well, you will see as the article develops, but it has huge methodical problems and its conclusions that children are acquiring the biases of their society at that age is a huge leap which doesn’t bear out upon further examination. Subsequent tests have shown that Latino dolls are as likely to be chosen as White dolls, and the same results are found in the countries like Japan which have virtually no direct or cultural experience of Black people.

But I will give you the real spoiler to the argument:

I have also located further research that shows that African American’s possess higher self-esteem than typical of whites across a broad age range, so the argument doesn’t stack up with this other data- even though I might be dubious of self-reporting surveys.

EDIT: I’ve decided to leave the methodological criticisms out of the essay. Although they exist, they are significantly weaker than the evidence that the conclusions of the Doll Test are flawed, and I don’t want to detract from this main point, by presenting a weaker argument juxtaposed along side it.

It’s taking me a lot longer to write this than my normal essays, as I am very much learning as I go.

3 Likes

I think I’ve missed something as well: the point of this thread is not clear to me. Geary, are you arguing that the attempt to desegregate schools was a mistake?

2 Likes

I’ve only just started it, but no that was not my main point. Calling what’s happening in schools CRT is a bad label. The younger activist teachers honestly believe that children as young as four have been taught racism by their parents and society in general, and as ‘proof’ they offer the results of the Doll Test. It falls into the same category as Maths is racist or Science is racist and has led to curricula and teaching which is deeply deranged. The AFT and NEA have simultaneously taken the position that such anti-racist teaching both does not exist in schools, whilst maintaining that they will vigorously defend any teacher proven to be teaching it.

John McWhorter has made the point that many younger teachers talk about wanting to teach ‘empathy’ rather than Maths, Science and Reading, when want they really mean is the type of activist critical social justice they were exposed to at college. Please note I am not saying that little children and completely unaware of race, but in general they tend to be more blissfully unaware of it as an issue than the rest of society, and when it does crop up, the main introduction generally tends to be weighted towards African Americans first, with this these kids becoming aware of the issue through their parents intent upon having ‘the talk’.

But thanks for the feedback. I think I will have to add a preface paragraph to outline the thrust of my article, before I begin delving into its history as exposition.

3 Likes

I don’t see the evidence to support that. Do you think it’s possible that the classroom bullies in the preschools and schools that these kids were from on average had darker skin? Having myself gone to mixed race schools and with my own kids at mixed race schools I’d say it’s more than a possibility.

@Andrew_W @Schopenhauer I’ve had a bit of a eureka moment. Maybe some of the lighter skin preference comes from hands. Think about it- even white children have lighter skin on their palms than the backs of their hands. Our palms are more useful to us- it terms of gripping or any other number activities. We examine our palms to the extent we know the creases intimately, yet we only look at the backs of our hands when their is a blemish or scar, or to examine our nails.

Could it be that the lighter skin of palms which are inherently more useful sets up an unconscious lighter skin preference in our subconscious minds. Perhaps my subconscious was pulling at me when I had this thought in the bath, because thinking back to one CNN interview I examined, the little Black girl looked at the palm of her hand positively and to the back of her hand and arm with frustration. It might also explain why Latino dolls are more popular than white ones in some quarters…

What are your thoughts? Could it be something as basic as this? At least when one is older it actually feels less comfortable to hold the back of your hand close to your face to examine your nails than it does to examine your palm. Maybe palmistry points to a deep fascination with the palm over the back of the hand. Now I’m thinking of the vintage Dune “The Sleeper must awaken.”

If I was going with nature rather than nurture I’d go with humans are diurnal and vulnerable at night, darker coloured predators are harder to see in darkness. Do people prefer dogs and cats that are lighter in colour over the darker coloured animals?

2 Likes

I had thought myself- but thanks for phrasing it in such an articulate manner. I might actually use your words when I get round to writing the essay!

1 Like

OK @Geary_Johansen2020 there is a whole lot going on here. My personal take…

It is very clear that western European “renaissance” culture has proved dominant in the last few hundred years.

Science, formal scientific method, although very fuzzy if you understand it well, has proven very powerful as a control mechanism over our baffling environment. This anti-religious belief system has proven far more powerful in practice than previous more religious belief systems.

However, it was born in Western Europe, for also baffling reasons. But de facto, people in western Europe had light skins.

So most of what we understand now in written history that we still have record of is “colonialism” by white-skinned people from western Europe.

It is very easy and even lazy then to see white-skinned people (OK maybe pinker or just melanin - deficient) as morally inferior because they have been the colonial aggressors in relatively recent homo sapiens existence.

This judgement is particularly stark in North America where most darker-skinned people descend from slaves who were deliberately uprooted from west Africa and brought to North America as slaves. Interestingly all darker-skinned Americans are mostly mixed-race which means they also have colonist blood in them.

For some reason we have recently become conceptually race-obsessed. Does “race” exist in medical or biological fact? Well yes it does, and modern DNA analysis proves it. Although homo-sapiens is a single inter-breedable species, there really are geographic localities of DNA heritage, and different DNA means different physical characteristics according to long-term historical specialisation according to local environment.

White skin is just one of those specializations. African people who live in much more extreme sunlight (ultra-violet spectrum exposure) need more melanin to protect the sub-dermis.

DNA itself is an inexact life-program. Humans who originally escaped from Africa to Europe did not benefit from dark skins, but in changing skin colour superfice were also changing other DNA specializations.

Coming back to the point here - the “doll” experiment. Most of what passes as ideological race-obsession nowadays is misguided because it sees the world as light skinned oppressors and dark skinned victims. According to recent human history there is a huge amount of de facto truth in this superficial judgement.

However, white people were only capable of colonizing and oppressing black people in the last few hundred years through superior technology, in the last few hundred years.

The real truth is that homo sapiens has played this game forever. Skin colour is entirely irrelevant. In Africa darker skinned Bantu tribes eradicated the lighter-skinned khoi-san peoples (my ancestors) due to superior technology.

Slavery was rife in Africa, as was (and still is) wanton rape and pillage, including enslavement.

It is understandable that people will internalise their skin colour and try to be white, which happens in Africa.

That is missing the real value, which is science and available to everyone.

2 Likes

Good comment. I would also add that for many populations, social stratification brought about by agriculture saw greater status in lighter skin- as those of lower status worked the fields and acquired darker skin. This even plays out in places like India and Japan- the untouchables were darker, as were the Eta. Agricultural societies with castes were also the ones which largely avoided slavery- with a class of people at the bottom to do all the unspeakable, vile and horrible work, they had less of a need.

3 Likes