The Clark Doll Test – When Black Dolls were the Ugly Dolls

A Black doll and a White doll

A Black doll and a White doll

I am continuously fascinated by the famous Clark Doll Test from the forties, and all of the successors since who use similar tests to determine the “state of Racial Relations” in the U.S.

And there is a phrase that I like, written by Mark Twain but referenced by him to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies… lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Whenever I see another of these ‘Doll Tests,’ where children of different races are shown dolls of different races and led by the interviewers to pick ‘the good doll,’ and ‘the bad doll,’ and ‘the pretty doll’ and ‘the ugly doll,’ that phrase always comes to mind.

Children are easily led, and ‘eager to please’ their elders. And when I hear the questions these ‘researchers’ ask, I always feel that these children are being led. Like the classic “have you stopped beating your wife?” question, there are no right answers. Yes (I have stopped beating her) or no (I haven’t stopped beating her) – both make you a wife beater.

If you ask a child “which doll is ugly?” they will have to pick one won’t they? Even if none of the dolls are ugly to that child.

And why this bothers me is for obvious reasons: my store, The Pattycake Doll Company, is currently the largest online doll store dedicated to dolls for children of color in America. We don’t sell ‘ugly dolls,’ or bad dolls,’ but we do sell thousands and thousands of dolls of color.

I admit it: I take tremendous pride in The Pattycake Doll company’s success. We have been selling beautiful Black and Asian and Hispanic and Biracial and all the other Ethnic dolls for over a decade. We have never, ever received one of our Ethnic dolls back because it was ‘ugly.’

So in summary, I would request all those with an interest in race relations to stop showing little kids in America dolls of color and asking them to pick the ugly or bad doll. Enough already.