In a video circulating the internet, two little white girls were given black baby dolls as presents, much to their displeasure. The older girl seemed confused, but the younger girl burst into tears and promptly threw the doll to the side. All this happened while their parents (or relatives) were roaring with laughter in the background. But there was nothing comical about this situation because teaching your child to be racist is not funny.
Racial bias and discrimination
If Asian or black kids were given white dolls, the reaction probably would not have been so negative, such as shown in a social experiment by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s.
In this series of experiments also known as “the doll test”, they wanted to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children in the USA.
Four dolls which were identical except for colour, were used to test the racial perceptions of children between the ages of three to seven.
The majority of these kids preferred the white doll and associated positive characteristics with it.
One of the most memorable episodes was when Dr. Clark asked a black child which doll was most like him and the boy smiled and pointed to the brown doll and replied, “That’s a n**ger. I’m a n**ger.”
Would you buy a dark-skinned doll for your child?
Times have not changed
A new similar study was conducted in 2010 by renowned child psychologist and University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer, who is a leading researcher in the field of child development, and a team of three psychologists.
These tests showed that the white children identified the colour of their own skin with positive attributes and darker skin with negative attributes, which according to the researchers, is called “white bias“.
Spencer reported that even black children have some bias toward whiteness.
Racial harmony in Singapore
Is there more racial harmony nowadays?
Take a look at the dolls being sold in toy stores across the nation here and it will be close to impossible to find a dark-skinned doll on the shelves, as the majority (if not all) of the dolls available here have light skin.
Although racial harmony is encouraged and enjoyed here in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reminds all Singaporeans that it is always a work in progress.
“We’ve made so much progress that sometimes Singaporeans may be lulled into thinking that we have arrived, no need to work hard anymore. It’s like this, it’s naturally like this, when you wake up it will still be like this, can go to sleep, don’t need to worry – and race and religion can no longer divide our society. I think that is being complacent, that is dangerous” PM Lee said.
A study on The Indicators of Racial and Religious Harmony conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg, which provides sensing of Singaporean attitudes on race and religion, revealed that although the majority of Singaporeans subscribed to racial harmony, only less than half had one close friend of a different race.
Help your child embrace race
Racial harmony is a work in progress here, according to PM Lee
Instead of teaching your child to be racially “colour blind”, here are three main things you can do to help him embrace different people and cultures:
Allow your child to be exposed to people of different backgrounds starting from an early age, so they will grow up fully aware that there are many different kinds of races out there besides their own.
Observe who exactly your kid’s friends are and try to introduce them to someone of a different skin tone and race so as to give their playdates a bit more diversity.
Model good behaviour
Be a good example for your kids and refrain from making negative remarks about other races or using derogatory terms to describe others.
Let’s hope that if you were ever to finally find a dark-skinned doll here in Singapore, your child will happily accept it and always treasure it.
*This article is from our archives.
If those doll tests were conducted in Singapore, what do you think the results would be? Do you prefer a dark-skinned doll or a light-skinned doll for your child? Share your thoughts by commenting below.