Colorism + the Clark Dolls

Hey Soul Fam!

This week during Thankful Thursday we discussed colorism by way of the Clarke Doll experiments and the documentaries: Dark Girls, Dark Girls 2, and Light Girls. For those of you who do not understand this concept, colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Yet before we get into that I want to go over a few terms. These terms need to be defined so that their clear and distinct differences can be understood, since many people tend to use these terms interchangeably and some terms may not be known at all. Prejudice is defined as a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. Discrimination is defined as the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. Stereotyping in the context of social psychology, is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group. Microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups. Lastly, racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. Racism is also defined as the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

That being said, let’s get into the Clarke Doll experiments and why these experiments were so crucial to the education system and desegregating schools in America. During the late 1930’s Kenneth Clark and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, began to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American school children, in particular their self-image. This couple was the power couple of their day! They carried out their research together and their research changed the scope of things within the education system forever. They were also the first African-American man and woman to receive PhD’s in Psychology from Columbia University. This couple dared to ask the question, are some people born prejudiced towards different groups, or is prejudice learned? With this being Black History Month, I highly suggest you look into this couple and their integral work. I will be adding some articles at the end of this section so that you can do some research into them.

There is much evidence that suggest that racial attitudes are not inborn, nor is it the case that race doesn’t influence a child’s perception of themselves or the world until later years. The Clarks research suggested that racial attitudes gradually develop over the first few years of life. This research has been replicated many times over, and it has always been consistent with showing that children as young as three show an awareness for racial cues, and even show a preference for one race over the others. As children get older, their attitudes about racial groups become more coherent, complex, and intense. The Clarks research showed that there was little difference in the racial attitudes of 6th graders versus high school students.  

The Clarks are most famous for their formulation of the Doll experiments. They used this experiment to measure children’s awareness of racial differences and their underlying attitudes about race. Their experiment used four dolls and tested children ages three to seven. The four dolls were identical in every way except for the color of their skin, which ranged from white to dark brown. They found that the children that participated were able to show awareness of race by correctly identifying the dolls on the basis of their own skin tone. They were able to also identify themselves in racial terms by choosing the doll that looked most like themselves. In order to further explore how these children felt about race, they were asked another series of questions. These questions pertained to things such as, pointing out the doll they liked best or wanted to play with, the doll that had a nice color, which doll was the nice doll, and which was the doll that looked bad. They became aware that black children showed a clear preference for the white dolls, while rejecting the black dolls. In psychological terms, this was interpreted as indirect self-rejection. They deduced that this reflected the children’s tendency to absorb racial prejudices that existed within society, which they would then turn inward and internalize.

The Clarks determined that as children learned to evaluate racial differences, according to social standards, they are required to identify with a specific group, which each racial group having an implied status within a hierarchy. The young black children that preferred the white doll showed that they were well aware of societies preference for white people. Children as young as three expressed similar attitudes to that of the adults within their communities. They concluded that their attitudes were formed by a mix of influences, including parents, teachers, friends, television, movies, and books. They pointed out that while most parents aren’t trying to deliberately teach their children to hate other groups, they may subtly and unconsciously pass on dominant social attitudes.

The Clarks insisted that segregation was damaging the personalities of both white and black children alike. Kenneth Clark’s expert testimony in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka was instrumental in determining that racial segregation was unconstitutional in public schools. This contributed directly to the desegregation of the public school system.  

Here’s some articles that speaks upon the significance of this experiment and how it has been instrumental in the education system.

Here’s a couple videos that demonstrate the Clark Doll experiment:

According to psychologist, parents are the first and most powerful source of information about the world, and children are strongly influenced by that information. There has been other research that suggest that children develop stereotypes and prejudices either through direct teaching by their parents or family, or that these attitudes are formed from a family environment that promoted negative outgroup attitudes (Allport, 1954). Yet, in the early years of a child’s life (before the age of 10), children do not comprehend the meaning or impact of stereotypes and so they can’t really internalize these attitudes until they get older. That being said, in the early stages of life, children are simply mimicking the outgroup sentiments of their parents (Rohan & Zanna, 1996). This is interesting because this just means that children before the age of 10 have racial attitudes based solely on their parents and/or environment. Once a child reaches an age (usually 11-13) where they attain a higher cognitive level do they understand the impact and implications of racial attitudes and at that time they may choose to change their attitudes or carry on with what they have already learned, but psychologist believe this is also dependent on the parenting style. Children are more likely to adopt the attitudes and values of their parents unless the child perceives their parent as both demanding and unresponsive. Children shown lack of attention and consideration were less willing to adopt the similar attitudes and values of their parents.

There has been psychological research that suggest that white families in particular never discuss race with their children. This can be extremely damaging to their child’s perception of other cultures. Race is something that MUST be talked about and in our current times, this is not the time to sweep these issues under the rug. For families who struggle talking to your children about race, please check out these articles:

Let’s talk about why racial issues may not be openly discussed among racial groups (especially white people), according to the American Psychology Association:

  • Defensiveness about issues of privilege. Value judgments (e.g., good vs. bad) may inaccurately be attributed to privilege. Naming privilege is not about placing blame; rather, it is about helping those who are in positions of privilege recognize and acknowledge the presence of privilege and the benefits experienced as a result.
  • Fear of appearing “-ist” (racist). People may experience intense anxiety because they fear their statements may be interpreted as representing racially biased attitudes, values, or beliefs and may hesitate or be disinclined to participate as a result.
  • Fear of realizing one’s own “-ist”. People may experience fear if they realize they do indeed hold beliefs or values that are racist in nature.
  • Fear of confronting one’s privilege. Once individuals recognize that they benefit from privilege, they may recognize ways in which they have abused privilege or, alter-natively, erroneously attributed the negative results of a disadvantaged status to personal inadequacies or failures.
  • Fear of responsibility for taking steps to end oppression. Recognition that taking action, or failing to take action, to end the oppression of others is a decision.
  • Monologuing. People may become entrenched in explaining/defending their position rather than listening with the intention of hearing, under-standing, and exchanging information and ideas.
  • Emotional content. Intense, debilitating emotion often arises that can interfere with a person’s ability to be vulnerable, present, honest, and open.
  • Power differentials between whites and people of color. There is an inherent power differential between people of color and whites in America. Because of this imbalance of power, people of color are more susceptible to negative outcomes following candid conversations about race. These include harassment, job loss, physical violence, or worse. It follows that people of color, who are already grappling with the burden of racism and social oppression, may be reluctant to engage in discussions that could garner additional hostility.

This being said, please understand that in today’s racial climate, again, now is not the time to sweep things under the rug and act as if they do not exist. Now is not the time to walk around in the delusion that you are color blind. Now is the time to address many issues within our society that has existed for many, many years because no one has had the gall to do anything about it.

This list was taken from here and its entirety can be read here:

Colorism is a by-product of racism that has found its way around the entire world. You can go to any continent in this world and you will be met with colorism. You will be met with a caste system that sees that people who have darker skin are treated unequally and unfairly. THAT is how insidious and pervasive racism has been in this world. You literally cannot go anywhere in this world without this system being instituted, which is rather depressing when you think about its implications. There are women in Africa right now who are bleaching their beautiful skin in an effort to get a lighter appearance. In Asia, women are scared to walk in the sun and will often be seen walking with an open umbrella on a sunny day. In India, they even have vaginal bleaching creams because apparently if your vulva isn’t light, it isn’t right. Don’t believe me? Check out their commercial here: and here’s an article talking about it:

I want to make this point though about colorism because people don’t often discuss it or its deep ass effects on our society at large. Colorism has been the biggest way to KEEP US DIVIDED. It is a product of the Willie Lynch system that was institutionalized hundreds of years ago, first in the Caribbean and South America, and then America. If you have never read it, then I highly suggest that you search for- The Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of a Slave, which is widely available. This will give you an insight into the psychological warfare that was inflicted on black women in those times. It is this structure that we still live in today. The psychological trauma that was inflicted upon the enslaved women especially was done with absolute reason, as women tend to be their children’s first teachers and also tend to impart them with their values and attitudes about the world. By psychologically traumatizing the women, they were ensuring that their trauma and fear was psychologically passed on to the next generation, and the next generation, and so on and so forth.

The following documentaries were made to speak about colorism and bring awareness about this topic and the feelings of both dark skin and light skin black women as they attempt to navigate the world. While I did not find all of these documentaries for free in their entirety on Youtube, I did find them across several different platforms. That being said, check your Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu to see if any of these documentaries are currently available in full. Youtube also has an option to rent. The Dark Girls 2 information can be found on the OWN website and I will provide all the links below.

For the Dark Girls info and trailer:

For the Dark Girls 2 info check out the OWN site at:

For the Light Girls info and trailer:

Please take the time out to watch these documentaries and make it a family affair. Allow this to be a way for you to openly speak to your families about these issues and the separation that it causes among the collective at large. Take this time to educate yourselves on these issues. Nothing can get better until we all start caring a little bit more.

I hope this information helps you out Soul Fam. Until next week, sending mucho luz + amor always.


Luna Estrellas

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