We’ve all heard about “The Black Doll Test” and if you haven’t heard of the original tests then I’m sure you’ve seen at least one of the many Youtubers, bloggers and other content creators who have recreated the classic doll test. 

The Black Doll Test

Black doll tests were pioneered by a husband and wife team of African-American sociologists who simply went by “The Clarks.” They devoted their life’s work to understanding the impact of racial biases. Yes we can all see that historically there have been differences in the way social and mass media have portrayed people of color especially. But what effect do these differences have on the psyche of our black children ? How are they affecting the minds of our precious black youth?

 In pre-Brown v. Board of Education America, the prevailing legal opinion was that public facilities and schools that were racially “separate but equal” were constitutional. It didn’t matter to those in power that spaces black people were relegated to were often run down and dilapidated due to lack of equal funding. The Clarks sought to challenge that pre Brown v Board mindset by testing whether black children were psychologically or emotionally damaged by attending segregated schools and just like that, black doll tests were born!

In each of these doll tests, black children were placed in a room with two dolls before them — one black and one white. The children were asked a series of questions: Which doll is pretty? Which doll is ugly? Which doll is bad? Which doll is good? Which doll do you want to play with?

The Results

Unfortunately, almost all the black girls in the test picked the dolls of other races other than theirs. How sad. Their self image had taken a severe beating and pummeling from all the negative images portrayed of black people in the media. 

Finally, they were asked to identify the doll that looked most like them. Kenneth Clark revealed later that some of the black children stormed out of the room because they were so upset that the black doll they had earlier rejected as ugly was imposed on them in terms of race.

The findings of these black doll tests come as a shock or surprise to few black adults around the world. Overwhelmingly, these black children who were the product of segregated schools and environments, showed a preference for dolls with white skin. Sigrid Y. Elston who is a licensed black, female psychologist studied the doll tests while getting her doctorate at the University of Georgia. Elston says it is inconceivable how influential the study was in showing the impact of segregation and how it harmed the psyche of black children.

The Effects

It isn’t any surprise then, that in the 21st century so many black, female entrepreneurs have dedicated their lives to eradicating the biases that lead black children to preferring white dolls and ultimately their white counterparts. 

One Galaxy Toy founder, Ethel Alaka is one of these black female entrepreneurs and we sat with her and Sweet Lola Dolls VP of Sales, Vivien Akubue to understand more about why #BlackDollsMatter and the origins of her company. Check it out below:  

What was your biggest challenge in launching this venture?

EA: Getting the vision right. The black hair texture was not in the market until recently and I wanted the doll to be authentically black. Capital was also an issue. Getting banks to fund the business was impossible. As well as getting investors to buy into the idea. 

VA: Aside from getting the vision right. As VP for Marketing/Sales, my biggest challenge was finding the right web designer to develop the Sweet Lola Doll website.  We knew it was the gateway to the business, considering a majority of other businesses had transitioned to online shopping during the pandemic. We wanted a website that was fun and professional at the same time. We needed someone with the right attitude, who is able to understand clearly our expectations and execute the same without being too expensive. We interviewed a couple of people and they were either too pricey or not as experienced, after months of looking, thankfully we eventually found our guy. 

Do you feel it is important for black women to enter into entrepreneurship? If so why?

EA: Yes it is important so we can become economically independent and increase the self esteem and confidence of our black children especially the girls. The more they see and identify with successful women of color the better their self image. Again successful business ventures which will bring prosperity and economic rejuvenation into black communities/neighborhoods. 

VA: Yes, I believe it is very important. Aside from the fact that the society lacks a balance in diversity when it comes to Women owned-businesses. There’s also the fact that Black women are naturally strong willed, resilient, tenacious  and have integrity. This has a lot to do with the way most of us were raised in the face of racism and sexism. We naturally developed some of these key skills that successful businesses require.  Transferring those qualities into entrepreneurship will make black women very successful in business and will positively impact our world as a whole. 

Why do you feel it is important for black and/or African dolls to be accessible? 

EA: Black kids need to see a good and correct representation of themselves everywhere whether it is in the media, television or social media. This will boost their self esteem and give them the kind of confidence that [we see in children of other groups] 

Do you have a doll or product you are most excited to launch?

EA: The Sweet Lola doll collection of course!  

VA: Yes, the Sweet Lola doll collection, specifically The Lola doll. It’s our flagship doll, it inspired this entire project in the first place and there’ll be no Serwa, Izeh or Makena dolls without The Lola doll. It captures the essence of our vision as a company, most importantly showcasing  the replaceable wigs and African themed outfit. Which a lot of young girls are fond of today. They can relate to her and will quickly love her. She’s the black doll every girl wants.

What differentiates Sweet Lola from other Black doll companies? 

EA: SLD line is authentically black, meaning everything about her represents an average black child whether it’s her hair, facial features or even her clothing. Most black dolls in the market are still basically fair skin with white features. Also our dolls have a background and backstory which you don’t see in other similar companies.Two of our dolls actually come with books. 

How can black entrepreneurs work together to build and advance their networks? 

EA: By coming together to form cooperatives; business networks; black banks and mentorship programs for startups. These structures will provide needed capital and know how to advance black startups and businesses. 

Ethel and Vivien are also dedicated to putting the money they make from this venture where their mouths are. With each purchase made on the site e a portion of proceeds is donated to programs that support and further the advancement of black girls around the world. To find out more about this program click here

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