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Black Children Feel Inferior

Black Children Feel Racially Inferior. (1987). New York Times News Service.


(Download Black Children Feel Racially Inferior overview as a PDF)

Members at the American Psychological Association meeting on August 30, 1987, were told that current studies have shown little change from the results of Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Clark’s study of black children in 1947. Dr. Clark found this "disturbing...What [black] children are telling us is that they see their color as the basis of rejection. We’ve tried to hide the damage racism does to black children, but the damage is there, and will continue as long as racism continues."

Of two recent studies, one involved 155 preschoolers in the New York City area and the other 257 children on the island of Trinidad. Preschool-age black and white children were shown black and white "Cabbage Patch Kids" that were identical except for their skin color. The children were asked

  • Which doll do you prefer?
  • Which doll do you want to be?
  • Which doll is a nice color?
  • Which doll would you like to have?

In the United States study, 65% of the black children preferred the white dolls, while 68% of the white children preferred the white dolls.

In the Trinidadian study, 85% of the light-skinned children preferred the white dolls and 64% of the dark-skinned children preferred the white dolls.

These results show little change over the years since the Clarks did their original research. They suggest early feelings of racial inferiority. Many people, including the researchers themselves, are much more cautious about the conclusions drawn from these studies. Several studies indicate that black teenagers living in black communities have higher self-esteem than suburban whites. Self-esteem comes especially from peers in the teen years, and black peer groups often give affirmation through racial pride. Also, researcher Darlene Powell-Hopson of Child and Family Services, Hartford, Connecticut, comments that these findings do "not indicate that [black children] want to be white, but reflects their knowledge that society prefers a skin color other than their own." In terms of ultimate results, this technical distinction may strike one as minor. But sociologist Judith Porter, of Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, also cautions, "I would hesitate to make any claims about black children’s racial pride based on studies of younger children alone. Other research with black elementary and high school children suggests that there has been improvement in their racial self-esteem since the Clarks first did their studies. Moreover, some studies suggest that racial pride tends to increase through childhood and crystallize at about the junior high level."

In the second part of these studies, the children were told positive stories about black dolls, and the psychologists praised the children who had chosen black dolls. As a result, a second testing showed that two-thirds of the white and black children expressed preference for the black dolls. The attitudes of children seem to be open to change as their role models and image messages change. Clinical psychologist Michael J. Barnes of Hofstra University concludes, "Black children can learn racial pride and self-respect if the models and reinforcements are strong enough."

Arthur L. Dozier, of Freeport, New York public schools, also involved in the analysis of these studies, comments, "Most of our heroes, from He-man to Rambo, are white. I think in the 60s we were naive in thinking that saying ‘Black is Beautiful’ was enough...The change has to permeate society."


  1. Whatever interpretations emerge from these studies, it appears that social models and messages to children have adversely affected black children, and that, in this regard, little has changed since the 1960s in our society.
  2. The reality behind these findings should be met in personal response and classroom situations. But the change demanded must affect all of society. There is no logical basis for light-skinned people to feel superior or to continue to be preferred and shown in a better light than blacks.
  3. Youth workers should seek positive ways to instruct children and adults regarding color preference.
Dean Borgman cCYS