Black Children and Positive Self Image

Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark Ph.d conducted a study on African-American Children’s racial identification and preference.

The researchers used drawings and dolls of Black and White children, and then asked Black preschool and elementary kids to indicate which doll or drawing they preferred, and which looked most like them.

They also instructed the kids to color line drawings of children using the color that most closely matched their own.

The researchers found that African-American children often preferred the white doll and/or drawing.

The Clarks also discovered that the children colored the line drawings of a child a shade lighter than their own skin color.

The samples of the children’s responses indicated that they viewed white as "good and pretty," but black as "bad and ugly."

This study was conducted 1939-1950. At that time, American public schools were still segregated. The researchers concluded that many African-American children at the time "indicate a clear-cut preference for white and some of them evidence emotional conflict when requested to indicate a color preference. It is clear that the Negro child, by the age of five is aware of the fact that to be colored in contemporary American society is a mark of inferior status. A child accepts as early as six, seven or eight the negative stereotypes about his own group."

Significance of the study

Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s testimony before the US Supreme Court contributed to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS case that resulted in the desegregation of American public schools.

The Supreme Court’s decision, as written by Chief Justice Earl Warren states states: "Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has the tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system." [via: Psychology Matters]

According to the APA, this means that segregation neglected to provide Black and White Children equal protection under the law (which is guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Thus, segregation is unconstitutional.

Due to this research, Chief Justice Warren remarked that Kenneth Clark is one of the "modern authorities" on which their decision was based.

This research is a also a landmark in the field of psychology as it was the first time that psychological evidence was cited in a Supreme Court ruling.

The Clark’s study also inspired many future researches about racial identification and preference among colored or minority children.

Source: Psychology Matters