Thursday, January 11, 2007

How Far Have We Come?

I'm preparing my sermon for the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and so am considering the state of race in America today. On the one hand, Massachusetts recently swore in its first--and the country's second--African-American governor and Barack Obama is considered by most a serious contender for the White House in 2008.

On the other hand, thanks to the NAACP's magazine The Crisis I came across a truly disturbing seven minute video documentary called A Girl Like Me. A high school student named Kiri Davis was working on a project for her literature class in which she was interviewing young women of color. Over and over again issues having to do with societal assumptions about beauty and the girls' sense of self kept coming up. She thought it might make a good documentary film and, as part of the Reel Works Teen Filmmakers project she created her film. [You can watch it at the Media That Matters Film Festival website. This link brings you to the Festival's home page; this one brings you right to the film.]

A Girl Like Me contains interviews with some young women of color, but the really disturbing thing is Davis' recreation of the 1947 "baby doll" tests of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark. In this test, identical dolls were presented to a child and the child was asked to identify the “nice” doll, the “bad” doll, and the doll he or she would rather play with. As I said, these were identical dolls, down to their clothing, except for the color of the doll’s skin. One was white and one was brown.

In his original experiment, which was used as one of the arguments in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision, Clark found that of the sixteen children between the ages of six and nine he tested, ten of them chose the white doll as their preference, ten of them considered the white doll the "nice" doll, and eleven of the sixteen called the brown doll the "bad" doll.

Ms. Davis recreated this experiment down to the exact wording of the questions for her film in 2005, and of the twenty-one children she studied eleven picked the white doll over the black doll. When asked why the white doll was the “nice” doll she was told, by the most innocent little faces you’ve ever seen, “because it’s white.” When asked why the black doll was “bad,” she was told that it was because “it’s black.” And most heart rending of all, when she asked the kids, as Dr. Clark had asked them in the ‘40s, “Which doll looks like you?” you can see the confusion, the hesitancy, and the hurt as they push forward the black doll they’d just denigrated.

So what's happened to the Rev. Dr. King's dream that people will be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? We may have come a long way, but we have a long way still to go.

In Gassho,

Rev. Wik Print this post

1 comment:

The Emerson Avenger said...

Indeed we do. . .