A black child sits in a room with four dolls on the table. Two of the dolls have brown skin and black hair. Two of the dolls have white skin and yellow hair. The scientist sits at the table with the child. Then, he asks the child a series of questions.
Give me the doll that you like to play with
Give me the doll that is a nice doll
Give me the doll that looks bad
Give me the doll that is a nice color
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
The child’s responses are recorded, and the experiment ends. The responses are tallied, and we learned something about ourselves.
To everyone’s surprise, the responses from the Southern and Northern school kids were very similar. Most children preferred the white dolls over the colored dolls in all aspects. 67% indicated that they preferred to play with the white doll, 59% thought that the white doll was “nice” and only 17% thought that the white doll looks bad. In contrast, as high as 59% of these children indicated that the brown doll “looks bad”. Remember, all these children were black.
The response to the last question was most disturbing.
“Give me the doll that looks like you”
At this question, Clarks reported that some children “broke down and cried”. Two even stormed out of the testing room, “unconsolable, convulsed in tears”. Dr. Kenneth Clark would later recall and conclude that “color in a racist society was a very disturbing and traumatic component of an individual’s sense of his own self-esteem and worth”.
This heartbreaking response is still with us. Children who took the test in 2007 would also break down in tears as they saw themselves in the rejected doll.