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Study Finds Black Self-Pride Still Low

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New York City--Researchers who repeated a landmark study on racial pride have concluded that feelings of inferiority among young black children are as strong now as they were 40 years ago.

But, the researchers add, their studies also suggest that an emphasis on the positive achievements of blacks by teachers, school curricula, and the media can help improve black children's self-esteem.

The findings were made public in two research papers presented here at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association late last month. One study focused on preschoolers in the United States, the other on children in Trinidad.

In each study, the researchers asked 3- to 5-year-olds to choose either a black or a white Cabbage Patch doll. Approximately two-thirds of the black children in both studies picked the white dolls--a4choice the psychologists interpreted as indicating poor self-esteem.

The results mirror those of an influential study conducted in the 1940's by the renowned psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, now a professor emeritus at the City University of New York, and his wife, Mamie. In the Clarks' study, 67 percent of the black children chose white dolls.

Their findings were later cited in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation.

"It's disappointing and upsetting that, 40 years after the Clark study, black children are still choosing white dolls," said Michael J. Barnes, a clinical psychologist at Hofstra University in New York who participated in a panel discussion on the findings during the apa meeting.

"It's disappointing but it's not surprising," he continued, "because there has been little to suggest that the attitudes society as a whole has had toward minorities have changed."

"In our society, black and Latino children are bombarded with images--in movies, toys, and books--that tell them theirs is not the preferred race," he said.

Choosing Dolls

In the American study, a researcher, Darlene Powell-Hobson, asked children which doll they wanted to be, which doll they wanted to play with, and which was "nice," "good," "clean," and "smart." The 155 children in the experiment included black and white boys and girls from segregated preschool programs in New York City and two integrated Head Start programs in suburban New York and Connecticut.

Black children chose white dolls 65 percent of the time, Ms. Powell-Hobson reported.

The researchers next attempted to influence the children's choices by asking those who chose the white dolls to sit in the back of the room, but praising the children who chose blackel10ldolls. When that approach was used, only 32 percent of the black children selected white dolls when they were asked to choose again.

The findings indicate that "progressive teachers who are sensitive to black children can have a tremendous impact," said Ms. Powell-Hobson, who is a psychology consultant in Middletown, Conn.

"In two of the five classrooms where we tested, the teachers had forcefully presented pro-black cultural experiences," she said. "One of the teachers, who was white, had a very positive impact on the racial pride of her black children; two-thirds of them had preferred the white doll in the original test."

The Trinidad Study

The study of 144 children in Trinidad--where 83 percent of the population is black--found an even stronger preference for the white dolls. Up to 75 percent of the children tested in two Trinidadian preschool programs chose white dolls, according to the author of that study, Sharon McNichol, a clinical and school psychologist at Creedmoor State Hospital in New York.

St. Elmo Gopaul, who is secretary4general of the Trinidad and Tobago teachers' union, said the results were not surprising, even for a country with a black majority.

"For over 400 or 500 years, the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean were dominated by colonial masters who came from Europe," he said during a conference seminar. "We have not recovered from the years in which blacks knew the white man as boss."

But Ms. McNichol also found that, after praising the children who chose black dolls, the researchers were able to temporarily alter the children's attitudes in the same way that Ms. Powell-Hobson did. The major difference was that the McNichol study used a black and a white experimenter, while both experimenters were black in the American study.

"We need an intervention that's longer, one that's part of the curriculum in school in order to have any long-lasting effects," she said.

Such interventions, both researchers said, should include a special school curriculum that focuses on black history and the achievements of blacks in all walks of life, and greater representation of blacks in toys and television programs.

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