which doll makes you feel better?


I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis yesterday.

It’s sited on the spot Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in April 1968 – the Lorraine Motel. Moving scenes.

Following the struggle of the Afican American through three centuries of slavery, abuse and segregation is a sobering insight into the darker side of human beings.

Maybe it reflects my own experience and knowing, but I found it more troubling to read of the twentieth century travesties than the seventeenth, where the importing of slave labour from Africa – somehow seems unreal; from a time gone by. The abuse in the street and the segregation however, in education, on buses, in everyday life… shaming stuff.

I learned much. Two things struck me in particular. I will cover the second tomorrow.

The first however was that in the 1950s a long legal battle came to a head, relating to segregation in schools. The legal team had contacted a group of psychologists who had researched the psychology of segregation. Their test was simple – it was called the doll test. They simply gave children, aged 3-7, four identical dolls. Identical, except for their colour. They asked them a number of simple questions to establish which doll they preferred. Overwhelmingly the children, whether white or black themselves , preferred the white doll.

The evidence was used to show how self esteem, a sense of inferiority and self confidence were affected by society, environment and prejudice.

The Supreme Court cited the work implicitly in the following passage: “To separate African-American children from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

Really? No s***?

Something we should hold on to perhaps? The notion that some form of judgement made arbitrarily might impact the self esteem of those judged and give them a sense of inferiority.

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