Updated: Sep 22
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on August 13, 2020)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Sara Bishop
Over the past three years, I have learned that raising a child is by far the most selfless and challenging venture one will ever take on. I never knew that I had the capacity to love, teach, redirect, or watch hours of Dora the Explorer the way I do today. At the age of three, my daughter is living her life carefree. I see her continuously exploring new words and starting to navigate new parts of her mind.
One thing that stands out to me is how she loves her two black dolls. She has named them “Baby” and “Chelsea.” The relationship she has with these two dolls means more to me than it does to her. This is because I understand how important it is for a young black child to understand the beauty in their black skin, their self-worth, and their value. As Dr. Martin Luther King lamented, “every negro child suffers a traumatic burden when he encounters the reality of his black skin.” Every day she grows in her attachment to Baby and Chelsea is another day free of this burden.
In 1940, Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a study with black children called “The Dolls Test.” The study consisted of four dolls that were identical except for skin and hair color. Every child in the study showed a clear preference for the white doll. As a native Arkansan, I was most stunned reading the recorded reactions of the children:
“…while Dr. Clark was conducting experiments in rural Arkansas, he asked a black child which doll was most like him. The child responded by smiling and pointing to the brown doll: “That’s a nigger. I’m a nigger.” Dr. Clark described this experience “as disturbing, or more disturbing, than the children in Massachusetts who would refuse to answer the question or who would cry and run out of the room.”
The study also exposed that African-American children attending segregated schools experienced higher levels of self-hatred and internalized racism. The Clarks’ research, while not created for litigation, was cited by the Supreme Court in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, which overturned segregation laws. Their study was recreated in 2005 and in 2010 and the findings of researchers were strikingly similar.
So, yes, I am profoundly grateful and proud that my daughter is beginning to understand the beauty of who she is. Nonetheless, I can’t help but worry that the second she leaves the safe nest of our home she will be inundated with messages of inferiority in every aspect of her life, beginning with school.
Research shows that schools are more segregated today than they were in the 1950s. My daughter is the only black child in her classroom. There are times when I watch her play with her friends on the playground and all I see is love, affection, and humanity in all those children. It is in those very moments that I wish I could pick up my remote and press STOP and REWIND as if I was watching a scene out of my favorite movie. I now understand why my mother often tells me that she vehemently misses those days. She misses those days for a lot of the same reasons any mother would miss holding their baby. But, my mother, like so many other black mothers was also speaking to the reality of watching her children grow up in a society that does not reflect nor acknowledge the beauty and dignity of their black skin.
Today, I dare us all to imagine a different reality for my daughter and black girls everywhere.
Black Girl Fly
Imagine little Black girl,
Maybe nine, maybe ten
She solemnly swears to herself,
She will win, she will write her thoughts,
She will read them loud; she will speak her mind,
She’ll be Black and proud
She gonna light up the world with her futuristic vision
About what our world would look like if we fight for abolition
Of the systems that are founded on a mass superstition
That demand that our minds and our bodies are imprisoned,
Yes, she gonna do all that,
But in order to do that, she has to dodge the things that hold her back,
Like assumptions made about who she is,
About what she should do,
And how she should live
Like, be a good girl and don’t make no noise
And go play with Barbies
And these pink ass toys,
And your strength is no match for the strength of boys
And she knows that ignorance given power destroys,
But, she won’t be held back,
No, she won’t do that
Yes, she will push through
That’s what black girls do,
And she has no limit,
She exceeds the sky,
She is strength and power that you can’t deny.
She will challenge authority,
No, she won’t comply,
She will change the world,
Yes, she will go high,
And I’ll be shading my eyes as I look in the sky,
What I see in the clouds?
That young, Black girl fly,
Get it, Black girl fly,
Go, Black girl fly,
Common Black girl fly,
Yes, Black girl fly
- Funmilola Fagbamila, Playwright, Sociologist, and Professor
This Op-ed is dedicated to the life and spirit of Breonna Taylor. #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor
Blklivesmatter. (2018, February 21). Black girl fly. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj_MBdNpEw4&t=16s
King Jr., M.L. (1968). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? New York, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
National Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (2014). The Significance Of “The Doll Test". https://www.naacpldf.org/ldf-celebrates-60th-anniversary-brown-v-board-education/significance-doll-test/