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August 12th, 2010
04:15 PM ET

AC360° Doll Study Revisited: Girl calls her skin “nasty”

Elise Miller
AC360° Associate Producer

Earlier this year, AC360°, with the help of a seasoned team of researchers, conducted a pilot study based on the 1940’s doll test. In this pilot study, more than 130 kids were asked a series of questions about five cartoon dolls with varying skin tones. Half of the children were African-American and half were white, half were in the north and half in the south. The results were surprising: white children have an overwhelming white bias, and black children also have a bias toward white.

One of the most shocking responses we heard was from a five year-old African-American girl named Brielle who Anderson spoke to after her test. She said, “I just don't like the way brown looks because, it looks really nasty for some reason but I don't know what reason.” Anderson said, “So you think it looks nasty?” and Brielle replied, “Well not really but sometimes.” Hearing such a beautiful young girl say she thinks her skin looks nasty was heartbreaking. Where is a five year old getting this notion? Brielle’s father, Byron, sat down with Anderson a few months ago. His first reaction after hearing her say that was, “Wow. To be honest I kind of anticipated that from Brielle. She’s been vocal about her perceptions of skin color.”

We wanted to talk to Byron and his wife LaTisha to see how they’ve addressed the issue of race with their daughter since the Doll Study series aired on AC360°. In an interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, LaTisha said, “I was shocked. I did get that sinking feeling in my heart, my stomach, my gut, whatever you want to call it, because it’s our child, you know? And it’s shocking to hear your child speak of herself that way.” Byron said the doll test, “... forced some conversations that obviously needed to happen. It forced some adjustments in the way we deal with our children, which I believe needed to happen.” Byron specifically said he finds even more opportunities to tell his daughters how beautiful they are. “They are the most beautiful girls in the world as far as I'm concerned and they need to know that and I need for them to know that,” Byron said.

Watch their follow up story here:


Filed under: Elise Miller • Race in America • Soledad O'Brien
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. NHJ

    i was about to write a long essay about race relations in America as it relates to kids, but then realized that Americans really AREN'T concerned about race relations. This article will be gone soon, and everyone will be doing what they were doing before. I'm a black male who has 2 beautiful bi-racial children, who've been taught since day 1 that their skin color made them no different on the inside than any other kids. We also had to tell teachers not to have bias towards our children. Race relations in this country are so deeply rooted that conversation much more serious than this would have to take place for it to change, and the media for the most part does nothing to help it.

    August 13, 2010 at 6:06 am |
  2. stella

    I would like to test my own family members to see what they are thinking. This test group really made me wonder. There are not many African American people residing here in my neighborhood, not even one family on my street. My family members go to a school with mostly Hispanic people. I'm Hispanic and even many within my culture have a bias against darker Hispanic people. I never understood why my cousin was so disgusted with his dark skin color. He grew up in Mexico and he told me lighter skinned Mexicans are viewed as being more attractive. I did not know this until he told me. I would take his tan in a second. I worry about the next generation, but I don't even know if they are aware. Can you post a test online so that we can test our own little ones? I want to know what they are thinking.

    August 13, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  3. kim o'connell

    I would like to say to Molly, the mom of the two bi-racial boys, that she can -and should- place the onus for receiving behavior she deems discriminatory not on her boys' racial category, or her family's self-identified cultural category, but on the willful ignorance and tactless actions of those who discriminate against her.

    Sometimes simply changing the way we process less-than-civil behavior toward us helps us to be free from it...not take it home with us, not let it live in our heads.

    Neither her life nor that of her children can be deemed offensive. Families like hers -like ours' are lovingly living up to the conviction that 'race doesn't matter.'

    August 12, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  4. Nived

    In our experience, it is in school that some teachers make students racially conscious. My kid was asked to draw a self portrait in school and when he painted himself of light color, it was pointed out to him to look at his skin color and accordingly color himself darker. Is it really necessary to make kids aware of these color differences in elementary school?

    August 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  5. Chad

    this is pitiful that our children are making these decisions based on skin color. my wife has taught her 3 children that everyone is equal, even drilled it in them. they still come home from school saying that they don't like being around brown people because they are mean.

    August 12, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  6. toni

    I am the bi-racial girlfriend of the father being interviewed today. I am also a college graduate who studied studied sociology and psychology and I am a little taken back on some of the answers of the children. For me its all about what type of envirnoment the child is raised in. For me I was always mixed or yellow, I never saw myself as just black or just white. I thank both of my parents for showing me both sides of my races.

    August 12, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  7. Anssuya

    I truly love my skin colour

    August 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  8. Linda Ruth

    This is sad. I am familiar with the early studies leading into Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 but I did not know you would find such results in 2010.

    August 12, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  9. gina

    ...ask this gorgeous girl with brown beautiful skin if she had a choice to have red or green skin rather than brown. What color would she rather be? Why compare to white skin..this is another mental way to have children see [white] as what better..think not......y......live life, live the culture. Wake up America...bring out the best in children, so your own
    children will have a joyous future....

    August 12, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  10. Robby

    Honestly its not surprising, certain people are ignorant enough to think we live in a "post racial" era but that test is just another example of the contrary. She's 8, what racism she's been exposed to is relatively current. Media, jobs, schools, and our American culture still favors a white bias, its just slightly more subliminal. Like Brielle said, “I just don't like the way brown looks because, it looks really nasty for some reason but I don't know what reason.”

    August 12, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Tina

    This is really sad. That beautiful girl cannot recognize her own beauty (which by the way, she's so adorable!!!) and the beauty of her skin because of the constant bombarding of the "perfect" standard (which has normally been represented with people of white skin, though it is changing slowly).

    I am from Puerto Rico, I am (you can say) white hispanic, and when I moved to the USA (in my twenties) I was appalled at the "segregation" of whites, blacks, latinos, etc. I'm not going to deny that there is a minority of Puertoricans that are racists (either to white or black), but in general, since we have such a mixed population, skin color is not an issue (which of course perpetuates the mix over and over, which is great).

    Anyway, growing up in my native country, and being exposed to North American consumerism I felt fat and ugly. I look back at pictures of me growing up and I was just healthy (not one bit over or underweight) and pretty. As a teenager I hated my curves, my arms, my legs, etc. Things that I now like about myself, since I have learned to admire myself as an individual and not a "cookie cutter" being, and my husband loves them too.

    I guess my parents and many others, do not think of these "issues" since they have learned to cope with them, and they see the commercial standards as what they are "business", and of course as normal to them. Plus of course every parent thinks their children are gorgeous, so no issue with that. I am not blaming the parents though, but the society we live in (me included) for its constant push of specific (many times ridiculous) beauty standards.

    I have found myself (Please forgive me in advance) asking for example, "Why is there a latin american, african american or asian american family in that commercial if they're just promoting pasta?" Which of course, is very very wrong for me to think that, and then I think to myself, is not that I don't like seeing that family in the commercial (I like it a lot), but instead is that I am still getting used to this changes in the media.

    Anyway, we as adults should promote individuality regardless of race or looks, and reinforce to our children (in our society as a whole) that they are beautiful and that the best thing they can do is accept their features, their race, their flaws and their strengths as they are. And of course, we should make more beautiful black, asian, latin, indian, pacific, etc. dolls.

    August 12, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  12. Isabel Siaba (Brazil)

    Raising a child and make you understand what is right or wrong, what is fair or not, how being worthy is extremely difficult.

    Nowadays, the life is so rushed and we can not always listen to what our children have to say or to stop and pay attention to what they are doing or thinking, but it is essential to form good people.

    August 12, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  13. sheila elliott

    I am so proud to see a positve, intelligent family featured.....the world should see Brielle, she has so much to offer!

    August 12, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  14. eugenia - San Francisco

    their family is beautiful.
    if there was no camera's rolling when she made the comment "nasty", what would your response been to her? would you have hugged her and told her she was beautiful?

    last night show was really good.

    August 12, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  15. Ms Ann

    I believe our young children are having negative remarks about the color of their skin and hair is because the parents that are teenagers and 20-30+ years old has not been taught about Black pride and civil rights movements.Black parents have moved into mixed ethnic areas in suburbs and adopted or changed their moral values and denied their children history of their heritage and complimented and reinforcing their cultures ,values and self esteem.Many fathers leave it up to the mothers and they are not equipped to discuss the history of being Black in society to avoid offending neighbors or co-workers.I hear this often about skin color and amazed at children not wanting to be Black and sport figures are stating they don't want children with kinky hair and many are marrying and involved with other races and not knowing the child can still have Black features.This subject can not be taught in schools because so many teachers have deep seated racism that they can't impress upon a child his value and confidence in society.So many Blacks are wearing weaves and their hair is straight and the Whites are getting lips/buttocks injectionto have bigger lips/butts and placing suntan machines in their homes to keep darker skin.Maybe its just a sign of time that our society is confused in all aspects of life itself.

    August 12, 2010 at 3:03 am |
  16. amina

    Her parents explaind her ideas were related to her own personal experiences. It is true that we rarely see women with her skintone as described as beautiful. Some fair-skinned Black women are used in Black music videos/film as the "trophy". This observation may lead some Black kids to realize society does not find darker skin attractive.

    Dr, Alvin pousaint and othe Black historians are well-versed in this colorism among Blacks and other colonized ethnic groups

    We see the image of Jesus, Santa and comic heroes as white while more Black and brown men are cast as gun-toting bad guys in TV, film etc.

    August 12, 2010 at 12:14 am |
  17. SALAR

    I am 8 years old and i think that it doesn't matter what skin color you are and poeple should not be judge on this.

    August 12, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  18. Lois Cavallaro

    Why not explain to children that white people spend so much time in the sun, paying to go to suntan places and using tanning beds to get their skin darker. Most white people want to get a great tan to appear darker and risk the chance of getting cancer. I'm white but I think blck is beautiful – it depends on who's wearing it.

    Please tell these chilcren to be so proud of their heritage.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  19. Winston S. Anderson

    The one thing I have not seen discussed on this show is the subliminal video images that are constantly fed directly into the brains through the TV set daily. Some are intentional and others are accidental. Everything good is white, the good guys wear white, like Muhammed Ali stated before, put the same gallon of gas in two identical cars in commercials and the black one runs out first and the white one keeps on going. These subliminal images are very powerful. Just turn on the videos and look at all of the images fed into their brains, of scantily clad black women shaking their booty's. How many positive Black images are on TV during prime time? "0" There were no Blacks on the major networks during Prime time last year, the Cosby era is dead.

    We need to take a serious look at this.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  20. Gabriela

    Without mention the skin color we teach our kids that white is clean and pure (angels, weddings, etc.) , and black is bad and scarry (halloween, monsters, etc.). The kids only associate that logic with the skin color. And they see how the world perceive the difference between the two colors.

    PS: Excuse my english, but it is not my first language.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  21. Ésio

    The answer was shocking, but I also think that answer shows a perception she`s gotten from outside, I mean from others.
    I `m black and married with a white woman. My 3-years-old boy is white and he assures he is black. That`s because he wants to be like me. He sees me a happy person, proud of my color, my hair and my voice. He sees a black man (me) as person who sings, play capoeira and smiles to everybody. When I call him my little white MAGUSI, he says: no, I`m black. I`m the black Magusi. Magusi is the other (the youger boy who is, in fact, a little more brunet.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  22. Marcia Victor

    Hi Anderson
    Watching the segment on the black & white study...
    I think most if not all of the findings, actually have more to do with decades of thinking ANY thing black or dark is either bad or evil eg. kids are afraid of the dark, all kids like the sunshine and daylight, black clouds bring rain, nobody likes burnt toast or any blackened food......Angels are white, snow is white etc etc...I think personally that the whole idea of choosing a colour is really based on everyday things as opposed to skin colour....see if any of your experts agree...we all think white is pure and black is evil...just my thoughts...Thanks for reading :)

    Marcia Victor Paisley, Ont. CANADA

    August 11, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  23. Sweta

    Parents needs to know that their kids are watching them and learning from them. So treat different race people the way you want to be treated. Racism is disease, so cure yourself...so at least your kids won't catch it.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  24. james

    It does not matter who is asking the questions since kids feel/know that Blacks are not always treated fairly , they may see it as there is something wrong with being Black.
    Thisis nothing new and was a common attitude among Blacks in previous decade. Just ask a Black historian or psychologist. The "Black is Beautiful movement was an outcry agains the self-hating idea. The view of these kids is even more prevelant in Asia, India and Latin America. People ther will openly laugh at those with dark-skin. In SOme parts of Asia kids are not permitted to play outside by parents who fear they will become dark ( like a Black person) Dark skin = low class in many parts of the world due to colonization/slavery's psychological effect.

    August 11, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  25. Jennifer

    These stories are so saddening. As a mother of a beautiful five year old African-American little girl, my husband and I have noticed that she constantly speaks of "having long hair" and picking dolls who are much lighter in color than that of she and our family. It is a constant battle that we realize we will need to fight long term.

    August 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
  26. Kim

    When do we as a society get past the skin tone of a person and their nationality ? See the person and not the way they look. Diversity reinforcement heart to heart gets real. A cultural wake up viewing racial bias 360 on awareness for change. Pretty cool everyone is openly communicating.

    August 11, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  27. Annie Kate

    Such a beautiful little girl – her bright eyes and wonderful smile give her a sparkle. I hope that she realizes how beautiful she is and how special – all children are beautiful and special and unique. We all need to try to pass on higher feelings of self-worth and self-beauty to our children – not to make them big-headed but to give them confidence and a feeling of satisfaction about themselves. Life's rough without that.

    August 11, 2010 at 8:57 pm |