Education: The Doll Test, From K-12 to Kmart

This month, Kmart began selling up to four dozen new ethnic dolls in its stores. Coincidentally, this is the year that Brown v. Board of Education was effectively overturned by the Supreme Court. A critical component of the Brown case was psychologist Kenneth Clark’s “doll test,” which showed black kids favoring white dolls over the black dolls that looked like them.

A 2005 mini-documentary called A Girl Like Me argued that the results of the Clark doll test might still ring true over fifty years later. Yet the success of brands such as Dora the Explorer prove that ethnic dolls, which have been around for quite a while, are more popular than ever before. What’s most significant about the Kmart dolls, besides the sheer variety, is that they’re not restricted to a specialized ethnic line but are dispersed throughout the store’s generic offerings. If they weren’t considered so already, ethnic dolls are definitely now mainstream.

So what does this mean for education? Past challenges to Brown and affirmative action have forced educators to rethink how to make their classrooms diverse. Perhaps Kmart’s mainstreaming of the multicultural brand can offer a lesson for educators. One thing’s for sure: with all the new varieties on the shelves, the doll test is dead.