Michael Jackson vs The Clark Doll Experiment

In 1939, psychologists and married team, Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a series of experiments examining race and self-perception. Blackamerican children were taken from both segregated and integrated schools and presented with two identical dolls to select from. The only distinguishing features between the dolls was that one was brown with dark hair and the other was white with yellow hair. The Clarks documented how the children responded to the following list of requests:

    * Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with
    * Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll
    * Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’
    * 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 Clarks found that children from segregated schools were more likely to select the white doll as the nice one, thus signifying, in their estimation, internalized racism and self-hatred. Their studies later contributed to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to end racial segregation in public schools. 

Gee Chee's View:  Speaking as a parent, there were times when I misread and wrongly classified my son's actions and rationale. As sincere guardians & protectors with the best of intentions, we can sometimes dissect and over analyze a child's minor infraction with our own convoluted politics. That said, employing the use of doll tests to quantify "self-perception" is a mighty bold investment to place in analogy. I would argue that a doll is a reflection of what's popular in the toy market before taking it to psychology. Perhaps there is some merit. I haven't delved deep enough into the Clark's argument so I'm not completely dismissing their studies, however I'm not ready to bust through a brick wall holding some Clark Kool-Aid either. I've reached no definite conclusions on this matter but in light of today's research documenting the effects of psychological persuasion, I feel the "Clark doll" conversation needs to evolved. We shouldn't forget that popular culture, marketing strategies and consumerism play a significant role in psychological influence and how we are persuaded to process and interpret our world.
  If a child chooses an orange basketball over a black basketball, I wouldn't read a subconscious rejection of blackness or an analogy for self-hatred but rather an impulsive choice made between one anomalous object and one normalized object. Orange basketballs are associated with abundance, popular basketball icons and standard NBA professional equipment.

In this case, what chance does a black basketball have against an orange ball in the hands of a levitating Jordan, immortalized on the shoe tongues of the mythological flying carpet called Nikes? Most of us adults buy into marketing strategies, propaganda, profit prophets etc., yet a seven year old's inability to respond as a counter culture rebel to a white doll is defined as a reflection of what stirs in the inner recesses of the mind? Could it be that children are also a target demographic just as adults are?

A generic white doll could at least be associated with popular film and sports icons. What do you connect a generic black doll with? Black children selecting a white doll over a black one could be more about the expectations of what a doll is suppose to be as oppose to a reflection of oneself.

    The white doll has already been established as normal. It's used in advertisements, story books, film, everything. I did an experiment with myself. I made myself imagine the color of a teddy bear then I Googled it. The majority of images that came up turned out to be just as I pictured in my head, a brown bear. You see some white bears, hardly any black bears and perhaps some blue or red bears etc. So if I were to give a black child a choice between a brown teddy bear and a white teddy bear and that child chooses the brown one over the white one, would this indicate a measure of self-pride or what's normalized?

Likewise, don't just give black children an anomalous black doll and a normalized white doll to choose from, give them an anomalous black doll with a narrative that would give them reason to make a transition. Take the Clark experiment to 1984 when the Michael Jackson doll was released two years after the Thriller album and MJ was still at the height of his success. At it's peak the album sold one million worldwide per week. Today it's still holds the record for highest album sales. Gather children from all over the world of 1984 and give them a choice between the Michael Jackson doll and any white doll and I bet the majority would've chosen the MJ doll.Not only that they might even show up with one white glove on.

   The only way an uncommon doll can beat out one that's normalized is if it holds a narrative, it must be prepackaged with a mythology, it must be aesthetically intriguing. That is what the MJ doll was charged with. Michael Jackson could flip a coin in a homeless man's cup transforming his tattered clothing into a white tux. Everything he touched magically became illuminated. At the sight of a full moon he could turn into a werewolf or lead a horde of zombies in a mausoleum mambo. Jackson could defuse gang rivalry with a leg snap-twist and flashing his jacket open with the semblance of a silverback's pectoral poundings. This is the narrative encapsulated in a MJ doll. This is what any normalized white doll would have to compete against. Significance and relevance will usurp the throne of the unexceptional.

GCV would like to extend a Clark Cartoon experiment that I conducted on my own son, Shogun Raygun (not really his name). Take into account Kirk and Spock's normalized heroic whiteness and compare it to the black alien anomaly Mace Windu. Share it with your children. Do you think the choice was made based on pigment or aesthetic?

Kirk and the calculative Mr. Spock?

or Mace?

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