A Girl Like Me: Re-examining Racial Preference


One study in the AS which always raises debate is that of Hraba & Grant who were replicating the research of Clark and Clark from the late 1930’s. The study is investigating racial preference, awareness and self-identification in both white and black children. Stumbling around the internet I found a very powerful video that has been created by Kiri Davis. When I’m teaching the research one point that I like to discuss with my students is: if this were to be replicated today what would we see? The video by Kiri answers this.

In the “doll experiment” from the 1940s, husband-and-wife psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark asked black children to tell them which doll—a white one or a black one—they thought looked most like them, and which was good and which was bad. They found that black children identified with and preferred white dolls to black ones. They concluded this was proof of internalized racism. Their research later became cornerstone evidence in the landmark Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision of Topeka, Kansas, which ended American school segregation.


In 2005, 18-year-old filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the Clarks’ experiment with 21 young black children at a daycare center in New York. In her seven-minute documentary, A Girl Like Me, Kiri presented the children with two dolls—a black one and a white one. Then, like in the original experiment, Kiri asked which they would rather play with and which they thought was “nice” and which was “bad.”[quote]

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Okay, I realise that there’s no experimental validity to this video, but it’s still a very powerful image. Black children in 2005 answering as we saw in the 1930’s – has nothing changed? Kiri Davis has been named on of Americas top 150 Most Influential Blacks In America – well deserved I think after creating such an emotional and provocative video.

There’s also loads of excellent sites out there who provide resources for teachers discussing race awareness. The best on that I’ve come across is RACE:

We expect people to look different. And why not? Like a fingerprint, each person is unique. Every person represents a one-of-a-kind, combination of their parents’, grandparents’ and family’s ancestry. And every person experiences life somewhat differently than others…

… Looking through the eyes of history, science and lived experience, the RACE Project explains differences among people and reveals the reality – and unreality – of race. The story of race is complex and may challenge how we think about race and human variation, about the differences and similarities among people. [from their ‘about page‘]

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