So much has changed in America since the 1940s, at least that’s what we like to tell ourselves. In this “post-racial” America, where the biggest concern for some people is the idea that “reverse racism” is a thing that actually happens.
One of the most influential psychological studies regarding race was done by Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife, Dr. Mamie Clark. The Clark's research became one of the pillars of the 1953 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Kenneth and his wife are most famous for "The Clark Doll Experiment."
The experiment involves giving dolls which are identical in every way apart from hair and skin color to young school children. The only differences with the dolls is that one doll is white with yellow hair while the other is brown with black hair. Each child is then asked a series of questions, including which doll is the nice doll. The study showed that all children favored the white doll.
This same study was replicated in 2005 by Kiri Davis. Now this means it was pre-post-racial America, so that’s probably why the 2005 study showed exactly the same results as the one conducted in 1939. I bet if that study were conducted today it would be very different because like Stephen Colbert most of us don’t even see race since the election of President Barack Obama. Oh wait, never mind it looks like Anderson Cooper studied this again in 2012, turns out kids still internalize racism, even in "post-racial" America.
The truth is, racism is still very much alive and children begin to internalize it from a very young age. It manifests in the experiment we see below.
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote today about how the Obama administration speaks to black America.
But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. And then they will match that rhetoric of individual responsibility with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.) And they will match the rhetoric with an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men. I think those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.
So much has changed, but so much hasn't, and there's no sense in deluding ourselves otherwise. As Coates points out in his article, language matters. When we don't confront the way we speak to one another or the implications language has, it manifests itself in our children and the disgusting legacy of racism continues.