Impact of Kenneth B. Clark

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In 1954, seventeen states and Washington D.C. still had schools that were racially segregated; another four states allowed segregation on the grounds that it was up to the local school districts to decide (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The last major attempt to desegregate schools took place in 1896; however, this attempt was unsuccessful (Bergner, 2009). This decision did not stop people from fighting for equality. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) began its appeal of the 1896 decision in the 1930s (Philogène, 2004a). It would be approximately twenty years later, in 1951, when the NAACP would approach Kenneth B. Clark and change the course of American history (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004).

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Kenneth B. Clark would become instrumental in the fight for equal rights for Black Americans, aiding in overturning laws on segregation through his work on race identification and the negative psychological consequences it can have on children.  He published many studies leading up to the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, and would go on to publish books afterward; including three about school segregation, Prejudice and Your Child (1955), Dark Ghetto (1965), and A Possible Reality (1972; Philogène, 2004b).

He achieved a lot in his lifetime, for example, he became the first person of African descent to receive a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University and serve as president of the American Psychological Association (APA) from 1970-1971 (Philogène, 2004a). In 1994, Clark was honoured with the Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology from the APA (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The following paper will discuss how Clark’s psychological research based on racial identification of children influenced the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. His research will also be examined in the context of scientific racism.

The Research

In 1929 Kenneth B. Clark began his academic career at Howard University, in a premedical program (Jackson Jr., 2001). He was in his second year when he took his first psychology course under Francis Cecil Sumner; Sumner was a role model due to his achievement as the first African American to receive a doctorate in psychology (Jackson Jr., 2001; Cherry, 2004). Clark became fascinated with psychology and soon after changed programs to study the subject full time, earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Howard (Jackson Jr., 2001). He later attended Columbia University to achieve his Ph.D. in psychology under Otto Klineberg, another important researcher on race (Jackson Jr., 2001; Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). When enrolled at Columbia, Kenneth worked closely with his wife, Mamie Clark, who was working towards her own master’s in psychology at Howard University. Together Kenneth and Mamie published research on African American children and the formation of racial identity (Jackson Jr., 2001).

The first of several studies the Clarks conducted together examined the development of race consciousness in African American preschool children (Clark & Clark, 1939b). The procedure for this study consisted of children viewing drawings of scenes that included at least one white boy and at least one coloured boy, along with other figures (e.g. a lion, a clown, or a dog). The boys were asked to answer, “Which one is [name of child]” or with girls, “Which one is [name of a brother, boy cousin, or boy playmate]” (Clark & Clark, 1939b). Their results showed that older participants (approximately age five) chose the coloured boy representation more often; however, this effect was not seen with the girl participants. They viewed the results as evidence that children, as young as five, can make the conscious identification of group belonging in terms of physical characteristics and at a young age (Clark & Clark, 1939b).

A follow-up study with African American preschool children was conducted soon after, this time investigating the role of segregation (Clark & Clark, 1939a). Two groups of African American children were studied; in this report, the Clarks compared a group enrolled in a segregated nursery school, to a group from a mixed school, where both the children and personnel were of different skin tones. The procedure followed similarly to the previous experiment; the children were again asked to identify which line drawing appeared most similar to them. These results showed that the African American children who were in the segregated environment, most often identified with the darker coloured line drawing. On the other hand, the children in the mixed environment demonstrated an identification ability almost at the rate of chance. The Clarks’ proposed explanation considered that perhaps the visibility of white children in their lives had an effect (Clark & Clark, 1939a).

The following year, Kenneth and Mamie published another study on racial identification of preschool children; this time with three groups based on skin colour: light, medium, and dark (Clark & Clark, 1940). The same procedure was continued from the study mentioned above. The dark children more often chose the child with darker skin as more similar, whereas the white children more often chose the white boy drawing. The children in the medium group fell in between, with a few more choices of the dark-skinned boy than of the white boy. The results became evidence for the belief that children have enough conscious insight into belongingness based on the colour of skin (Clark & Clark, 1940).

The most well-known experiment of the Clarks’ research is the doll study. Identical dolls except for their skin colour, of which half were brown and half were white, were presented to African American children. Over half the children lived in Southern states while attending a segregated school, while just under half attended a mixed school in Northern states (Clark & Clark, 1947). The experimenter then asked eight questions which were used to establish the children’s skin colour preferences, knowledge of racial differences, and identification with a particular skin tone. The results showed that the children grouped as dark were consistently more accurate in choosing the doll that the experimenter asked for, in terms of skin colour. In the Clarks’ minds, this demonstrated that children had insight into racial differences based on skin colour. Regarding racial preferences, most children (approximately two-thirds) chose the white doll as ‘the best’ or as a ‘nice doll’ (Clark & Clark, 1947). These results would later be interpreted as a wounded self-esteem theory. A society in which segregation exists creates an opportunity for an imbalance, which would then be internalized (Bergner, 2009).

Almost ten years after the initial study, the Clarks asked children to colour line drawings using a shade matching their own skin tone (Clark & Clark, 1950). The sample became more specific, examining the behaviour of light, medium, and dark coloured children from both Northern and Southern states. The generalized finding showed that all the children tended to choose a colour lighter than their own skin tone; although accuracy increased with age and there were no significant differences between the Northern and Southern children. When asked to indicate preferences for skin colour, however, older children chose brown more often and so did Southern children. From this data, the Clarks proposed that African American children are already able to recognize society’s stance on the inferiority of Black people (Clark & Clark, 1950). There is a conflict between how they see themselves and how they reflect society’s values.

The Clarks may have thought society was not equal because children could identify physical differences. The fact that there was separation based on these differences signified inferiority. This could be the reasoning as to why African American children chose the white doll over the brown doll or why they often coloured themselves a shade lighter than their natural skin tone.

INFLUENCE ON SEGREGATION

It has been argued that Kenneth B. Clark was one of the most influential people in the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, on May 17th, 1954 (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). There are two reasons why this decision became significant; 1) segregation was declared in violation of the 14th Amendment (i.e. equal protection under U.S. laws), and 2) it validated psychology as a science (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004; United States of America Constitution [USA Constitution], n.d.).

Segregation is deeply rooted in American history and perpetuated in American society. In 1896 there was an attempt to change segregation in the United States; however, the case Plessy v. Ferguson was unable to achieve desegregation (Bergner, 2009). The 14th Amendment, regarding equality under the law, was ruled as not in violation of anyone’s rights because African Americans were described as “separate by equal” (USA Constitution, n.d.; Bergner, 2009). This early court case did not take into account any psychological evidence; nevertheless, almost sixty years later this would change.

There would be four cases that would culminate to comprise Brown v. Board of Education in 1954: Briggs v. Elliott in South Carolina, 1951; Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, in Kansas, 1951; Belton v. Gebhart, in Delaware, 1951; and finally Davis v. Prince Edward County, in Virginia, 1952 (Jackson Jr., 2001). Kenneth Clark was involved in organizations that would become influential in the 1954 Brown decision.  In 1944 Clark was asked to join the Commission on Community Interrelations (CCI), which focussed on research in the social psychology of discrimination and the impact it had on stigmatized groups (Cherry, 2004). Clark was tasked to investigate intergroup relations after a fight broke out in front of a synagogue in Coney Island (Cherry, 2004). As part of the CCI, he met Isidor Chein, whom he would partner with, in the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), to draft the document that would be given to the Supreme Court in Brown (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004).

It was the NAACP-Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDEF) who would be the ones to challenge segregation at the Supreme Court level (Jackson Jr., 2001). The initial strategy of the NAACP was to focus on education as a resource. They needed to provide evidence that segregation influenced the quality of education (Pettigrew, 2004). This was established through the inequality of resources argument. This meant that even when segregated, the schools were not given the same resources to allow for children to prosper. In the same districts, less money was spent on segregated African American schools, facilities, and curriculum. The NAACP was able to win small cases one-by-one; but soon realized that this would take a long time, as each school district would have to be fought separately (Bergner, 2009).

It was in 1951 when the NAACP-LDEF approached Clark, after speaking with Otto Klineberg (his Ph.D. advisor) who recommended Clark as an ally in the fight against segregation (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The NAACP recruited Clark and asked for his testimony in the first case in South Carolina; he used the evidence from the studies mentioned previously, especially the doll study, to validate the claim that segregation was not beneficial to society (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). In fact, Clark argued that segregation is psychologically damaging to African American children’s self-esteem (Bergner, 2009). The NAACP’s information on the inequality of school spending worked in conjunction with Clark’s information on the internalization of society’s racial values in school children. The lack of funding which created unequal facilities stimulated an imbalance that school children may have noticed. If there is some interaction between children of different socially constructed racial categories, then maybe they could internalize those values.

As mentioned, Clark worked with Isidor Chein to draft a document that would be used in the Supreme Court case. Stuart W. Cook, also a member of the SPSSI committee, co-authored the paper as well (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The document consisted of a summary of all psychological evidence up until September of 1952; it was submitted as an appendix to the NAACP’s brief (Clark, Chein, & Cook, 2004; Bergner, 2009). A key detail in the document was this, “…certain conclusions seem to be justified on the basis of the available scientific evidence,” (emphasis added, Clark et al., 2004). There is an acknowledgement of the use of scientific knowledge as a partial basis for the decision to desegregate. The citation that follows this statement in the Brown v. Board of Education decision cites only psychological evidence; of which, Clark’s name is mentioned first. It can then be argued that this is the instant when psychology was recognized as a real science.

The document, known as the Social Science Statement, defines segregation in terms of a restriction of opportunities which is supported by an official body, which in this case is considered to be the government (Clark et al., 2004). It clearly states that, “the effects of segregation…. do not take place in a vacuum, but in a social context… in a social milieu in which ‘race’ prejudice and discrimination exist,” (Clark et al., 2004).The document implies segregation causes feelings of inferiority because it creates an awareness of differences in social status (Clark et al., 2004). They focus again on the context, citing evidence that intelligence differences are due to environmental influences, not race. The next task of the document was to address the feasibility of desegregation. They cited examples of workplaces, armed services, and housing situations where desegregation occurred without significant uprisings (Clark et al., 2004). Consistent enforcement of legal policies from government bodies is suggested as the method for creating favourable attitudes (Clark et al., 2004). The concept of psychological damage would later take form as a result of this research. Segregation, by implying inferiority, would cause self-hatred and desegregation would be considered a way to undo the damage causing these negative feelings (Steele, 2004).

In the final decision, the Supreme Court cited a document of Clark’s, written in 1950, about his (and Mamie’s) research at the time (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). During the reading of the Court’s decision, Chief Justice Warren, only revealed that, “Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority,” (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). And so, segregation was deemed in violation of equal protection under the law under the 14th Amendment; however, the court called for suggestions on a timetable and a reasonable procedure for integration (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). Again, Clark was called in, along with other social scientists, to prepare a brief that would provide recommendations (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The Supreme Court announced their follow-up decision on May 31st, 1955 which is now often referred to as Brown II (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004; Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). The Court decided, based on the social scientists’ recommendations to, “…admit the parties to these cases to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed,” (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

As a result of desegregation, the college audience for social science research increased; research conducted by Clark and his colleagues could reach a wider and more diverse group of people (Brown v. Board of Education, 1955). However, it took some time before Clark was recognized as instrumental, despite having his own name cited in the case (Brown v. Board of Education, 1955). The American Psychological Association gave no official recognition for any of the psychologists cited, including Kenneth B. Clark (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). It was not until the 1960s when some involved in the American civil rights movement unearthed Clark’s work and brought it into the public eye (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). Clark’s work was criticized at the time for the focus on self-hatred and the appearance of biases in the methods of his research (Lewis, 2004; Bergner, 2009).  A clear example of this came from an identification made by Clark himself regarding the doll studies. He realized that when children were asked to identify with a doll before asking which one they preferred, they tended to pick the same doll; so he reversed the order of questioning (Clark & Clark, 1947; Bergner, 2009).

Some contemporary critics do not agree with the Clarks’ methods and/or conclusions from their studies and consequently the use in the Brown decision. Judgements include inconsistent groupings of the children (i.e. light versus medium versus dark-skinned), the skin colours provided for line-drawing experiments and of the dolls, and finally the questioning techniques (Kendler, 2002). Patterson (2001)questioned why the Clarks concluded thatit was segregation that caused the disparity between actual and perceived skin colour of the children. Instead, Patterson (2001)suggests Clark disregarded any influences due to poverty or discrimination. A similar idea to Henry Garrett’s is raised, where schools only containing African Americans may better serve the children because they would not face competition from white students who would do much better (Patterson, 2001). Garrett believed that segregation would allow African Americans to prosper because then they could receive an education that catered to their strengths, which he believed to be art, athletics, and music (Winston, 1998).

Other disapproval stems from the ability to remain objective as scientists (Jackson Jr., 2001). If a scientist truly believed that segregation was wrong, these preconceptions could create a confirmation bias in the experiment, translating into results that conform to the scientist’s beliefs. The research that would be cited in the Brown decision, would be based on years of research leading up to it; much of it the Clarks’, studying the effects of segregation on racial identification. A conflict of interest could be considered in terms of Clark’s involvement with the case because of his close ties with the NAACP’s work to end segregation and his research which was directly used as evidence.

Scientific Racism

Scientific racism is a concept that began to take shape around the end of the nineteenth century. The idea focuses on two main aspects; 1) traits are stable over generations due to heredity and 2) the white European race is the superior race (Jackson Jr. & Weidman, 2005/2006). How does scientific racism relate to Kenneth Clark’s research and involvement in the Brown v. Board of Education case? Clark definitely did not believe in either of these conditions. As a result, his work can be considered a counterargument to scientific racism, even though he focused on a population with similar physical characteristics, one of which (skin colour) has been used as a marker for racial categories for a long time.

It can be argued that Clark did not believe that traits were stable over time. In his research, he focussed on the effect that the social environment had on African Americans. He believed it was the American culture that resulted from historical instances of inequality that created the negative psychological effects (Freeman, 2011). His goal was to study race consciousness, which he defined as, “…consciousness of self as belonging to a specific group which is differentiated from other groups by obvious physical characteristics,” (Clark & Clark, 1939b). In another of his studies, he discusses personality, “… feelings of inadequacy and inferiority which seem to become integrated into the very structure of the personality as it is developing,” (Clark & Clark, 1950). Again, Clark emphasized that the segregated environment is a cause for change. The negative psychological effects that he believed had on the African American community is not innate nor could they be transmitted to offspring. In addition, he focused on the ability for positive change. If the right social action is taken, then relations between these groups could become stronger, and therefore reduce the negative psychological effects (Clark et al., 2004).

Furthermore, it can be argued that Clark did not believe in the second condition of scientific racism; he did not believe in white supremacy or the supremacy of any race. His fight for education equality demonstrates this fact. He never advocated that African Americans deserved more than white Americans. He pointed out that they only way to change the attitudes of Americans were to have people come together in conditions of equality, whether it be in education, housing, or public spaces (Jackson Jr., 2001). There was a general concern that white supremacy was a part of American culture (Freeman, 2011). It cannot be forgotten thatsegregation was initially instated to prevent African Americans from mixing with white Americans (Bergner, 2009). Consequently, it is difficult to argue that white supremacy was never involved in the earlier decision, of Plessy v. Ferguson to keep segregation, because it maintained the previous status quo.

It can be concluded that Clark did not take part in scientific racism as defined by the two conditions outlined above. The Clarks’ studies were conducted on the basis of race, nevertheless, he continuously states that race is a social construct. Accordingly, his research may fall under the category of ‘race research’. It must be considered, however, that his research was necessary. Would the NAACP have had enough evidence to ensure the same result, that segregation would become illegal? It is a difficult answer when examining the past. There were other studies cited in Footnote 11 of Brown v. Board of Education, but it was really Clark who was at the centre of all the efforts, especially those organized by the NAACP. He bridged the gap between the NAACP and social scientists. His name and work were central in all the evidence submitted by the NAACP to the Supreme Court. Regardless of the fact that some of his results show mixed results and biases in questions asked, it was the science of the time that was necessary to achieve equality of all people.

CONCLUSION

“[Race] has permeated every facet of American culture – its laws, its language, its political ideologies,” (Philogène, 2004a).  This statement reflects the impact that racial ideology has had on America. The distinction between races is evident in the past when examining segregation. Segregation emphasized the apparent differences between groups, even when the distinction was based on nothing but physical characteristics. Kenneth and Mamie Clarks’ research attempted to demonstrate the harmful effects segregation had on the African American population. They reasoned racial identification and racial consciousness began in childhood, but there was hope that this could change.

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The Clarks’ research formed the basis of the social scientific reason for the Supreme Court’s decision which would be recognized as significant because it declared segregation violated the 14th Amendment and it validated psychology as a science (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The Brown v. Board of Education decision just over seventy years ago has had a lasting effect. The use of racial categorization has not completely disappeared today, but the 1954 decision was mandatory for change to be triggered on a larger scale. We must still work towards a future with more equality by recognizing that society still shows favouritism towards certain groups of people. But, with dedication and hard work, like those whose legacy we see today, maybe one day we can achieve that goal.

References

Benjamin Jr., L.T., & Crouse, E.M. (2004). The American Psychological Association’s response to Brown v. Board of Education: The case of Kenneth B. Clark. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (231-253). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Bergner, G. (2009). Black children, white preference: Brown v. Board, the doll tests and the politics of self-esteem. American Quarterly, 61(2), 299-332.

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). Retrieved from: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/347/483/case.html#F11

Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 75 S. Ct. 753, 99 L. Ed. 1083 (1955). Retrieved from: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/349/294/

Cherry, F. (2004). Kenneth B. Clark and social psychology’s other history. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (17-33). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Clark, K. B., Chein, I., & Cook, S. W. (2004). The effects of segregation and the consequences of desegregation: A (September 1952) social science statement in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case. American Psychologist, 59(6), 495-501.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1950). Emotional factors in racial identification and preference in Negro children. The Journal of Negro Education, 19(3), 341-350.

Clark, K. B., & Clark, M. P. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children. In Readings in Social Psychology (169-178). New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1939a). Segregation as a factor in the racial identification of Negro pre-school children: A preliminary report. The Journal of Experimental Education, 8(2), 161-163.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1940). Skin colour as a factor in racial identification of Negro preschool children. The Journal of Social Psychology, 11, 159-169.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1939b). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence of racial identification in Negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, 10(4), 591-599.

Freeman, D. (2011). Reconsidering Kenneth B. Clark and the idea of black psychological damage, 1931-1945. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 8(1), 271-283

Jackson Jr., J.P. (2001). Social scientists for social justice: Making the case against segregation. New York: New York University Press.

Jackson Jr., J.P., & Weidman, N.M. (2005/2006). The origins of scientific racism. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 50, 66-79.

Kendler, H.H. (2002). A personal encounter with psychology (1937-2002). History of Psychology, 5(1), 52-84.

Keppel, B. (2002). Kenneth B. Clark in the patterns of American culture. American Psychologist, 57(1), 29-37.

Lewis, L.J. (2004). Introduction: Creating an identity: An analysis of Kenneth B. Clark’s influence on the psychology of identity. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (53-60). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Patterson, J.T (2001). Brown v. Board of Education: A civil rights milestone and its troubled legacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pettigrew, T.F. (2004). Racial integration today: Revisiting Kenneth B. Clark’s vision. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (35-49). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Philogène, G. (2004a). Introduction: Race as a defining feature of American culture. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (3-11). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Philogène, G. (2004b). Introduction: Visions of democracy and equality. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (15-16). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Steele, C.M. (2004). Kenneth B. Clark’s context and mine: Toward a context-based theory of social identity threat. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (61-76). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

United States of America Constitution (n.d.). 14th Amendment. Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv

Winston, A.S. (1998). Science in the service of the far right: Henry E. Garrett, the IAAEE, and the Liberty Lobby. Journal of Social Issues, 54(1), 179-210.

In 1954, seventeen states and Washington D.C. still had schools that were racially segregated; another four states allowed segregation on the grounds that it was up to the local school districts to decide (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The last major attempt to desegregate schools took place in 1896; however, this attempt was unsuccessful (Bergner, 2009). This decision did not stop people from fighting for equality. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) began its appeal of the 1896 decision in the 1930s (Philogène, 2004a). It would be approximately twenty years later, in 1951, when the NAACP would approach Kenneth B. Clark and change the course of American history (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004).

Kenneth B. Clark would become instrumental in the fight for equal rights for Black Americans, aiding in overturning laws on segregation through his work on race identification and the negative psychological consequences it can have on children.  He published many studies leading up to the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, and would go on to publish books afterward; including three about school segregation, Prejudice and Your Child (1955), Dark Ghetto (1965), and A Possible Reality (1972; Philogène, 2004b).

He achieved a lot in his lifetime, for example, he became the first person of African descent to receive a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University and serve as president of the American Psychological Association (APA) from 1970-1971 (Philogène, 2004a). In 1994, Clark was honoured with the Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology from the APA (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The following paper will discuss how Clark’s psychological research based on racial identification of children influenced the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. His research will also be examined in the context of scientific racism.

The Research

In 1929 Kenneth B. Clark began his academic career at Howard University, in a premedical program (Jackson Jr., 2001). He was in his second year when he took his first psychology course under Francis Cecil Sumner; Sumner was a role model due to his achievement as the first African American to receive a doctorate in psychology (Jackson Jr., 2001; Cherry, 2004). Clark became fascinated with psychology and soon after changed programs to study the subject full time, earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Howard (Jackson Jr., 2001). He later attended Columbia University to achieve his Ph.D. in psychology under Otto Klineberg, another important researcher on race (Jackson Jr., 2001; Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). When enrolled at Columbia, Kenneth worked closely with his wife, Mamie Clark, who was working towards her own master’s in psychology at Howard University. Together Kenneth and Mamie published research on African American children and the formation of racial identity (Jackson Jr., 2001).

The first of several studies the Clarks conducted together examined the development of race consciousness in African American preschool children (Clark & Clark, 1939b). The procedure for this study consisted of children viewing drawings of scenes that included at least one white boy and at least one coloured boy, along with other figures (e.g. a lion, a clown, or a dog). The boys were asked to answer, “Which one is [name of child]” or with girls, “Which one is [name of a brother, boy cousin, or boy playmate]” (Clark & Clark, 1939b). Their results showed that older participants (approximately age five) chose the coloured boy representation more often; however, this effect was not seen with the girl participants. They viewed the results as evidence that children, as young as five, can make the conscious identification of group belonging in terms of physical characteristics and at a young age (Clark & Clark, 1939b).

A follow-up study with African American preschool children was conducted soon after, this time investigating the role of segregation (Clark & Clark, 1939a). Two groups of African American children were studied; in this report, the Clarks compared a group enrolled in a segregated nursery school, to a group from a mixed school, where both the children and personnel were of different skin tones. The procedure followed similarly to the previous experiment; the children were again asked to identify which line drawing appeared most similar to them. These results showed that the African American children who were in the segregated environment, most often identified with the darker coloured line drawing. On the other hand, the children in the mixed environment demonstrated an identification ability almost at the rate of chance. The Clarks’ proposed explanation considered that perhaps the visibility of white children in their lives had an effect (Clark & Clark, 1939a).

The following year, Kenneth and Mamie published another study on racial identification of preschool children; this time with three groups based on skin colour: light, medium, and dark (Clark & Clark, 1940). The same procedure was continued from the study mentioned above. The dark children more often chose the child with darker skin as more similar, whereas the white children more often chose the white boy drawing. The children in the medium group fell in between, with a few more choices of the dark-skinned boy than of the white boy. The results became evidence for the belief that children have enough conscious insight into belongingness based on the colour of skin (Clark & Clark, 1940).

The most well-known experiment of the Clarks’ research is the doll study. Identical dolls except for their skin colour, of which half were brown and half were white, were presented to African American children. Over half the children lived in Southern states while attending a segregated school, while just under half attended a mixed school in Northern states (Clark & Clark, 1947). The experimenter then asked eight questions which were used to establish the children’s skin colour preferences, knowledge of racial differences, and identification with a particular skin tone. The results showed that the children grouped as dark were consistently more accurate in choosing the doll that the experimenter asked for, in terms of skin colour. In the Clarks’ minds, this demonstrated that children had insight into racial differences based on skin colour. Regarding racial preferences, most children (approximately two-thirds) chose the white doll as ‘the best’ or as a ‘nice doll’ (Clark & Clark, 1947). These results would later be interpreted as a wounded self-esteem theory. A society in which segregation exists creates an opportunity for an imbalance, which would then be internalized (Bergner, 2009).

Almost ten years after the initial study, the Clarks asked children to colour line drawings using a shade matching their own skin tone (Clark & Clark, 1950). The sample became more specific, examining the behaviour of light, medium, and dark coloured children from both Northern and Southern states. The generalized finding showed that all the children tended to choose a colour lighter than their own skin tone; although accuracy increased with age and there were no significant differences between the Northern and Southern children. When asked to indicate preferences for skin colour, however, older children chose brown more often and so did Southern children. From this data, the Clarks proposed that African American children are already able to recognize society’s stance on the inferiority of Black people (Clark & Clark, 1950). There is a conflict between how they see themselves and how they reflect society’s values.

The Clarks may have thought society was not equal because children could identify physical differences. The fact that there was separation based on these differences signified inferiority. This could be the reasoning as to why African American children chose the white doll over the brown doll or why they often coloured themselves a shade lighter than their natural skin tone.

INFLUENCE ON SEGREGATION

It has been argued that Kenneth B. Clark was one of the most influential people in the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, on May 17th, 1954 (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). There are two reasons why this decision became significant; 1) segregation was declared in violation of the 14th Amendment (i.e. equal protection under U.S. laws), and 2) it validated psychology as a science (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004; United States of America Constitution [USA Constitution], n.d.).

Segregation is deeply rooted in American history and perpetuated in American society. In 1896 there was an attempt to change segregation in the United States; however, the case Plessy v. Ferguson was unable to achieve desegregation (Bergner, 2009). The 14th Amendment, regarding equality under the law, was ruled as not in violation of anyone’s rights because African Americans were described as “separate by equal” (USA Constitution, n.d.; Bergner, 2009). This early court case did not take into account any psychological evidence; nevertheless, almost sixty years later this would change.

There would be four cases that would culminate to comprise Brown v. Board of Education in 1954: Briggs v. Elliott in South Carolina, 1951; Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, in Kansas, 1951; Belton v. Gebhart, in Delaware, 1951; and finally Davis v. Prince Edward County, in Virginia, 1952 (Jackson Jr., 2001). Kenneth Clark was involved in organizations that would become influential in the 1954 Brown decision.  In 1944 Clark was asked to join the Commission on Community Interrelations (CCI), which focussed on research in the social psychology of discrimination and the impact it had on stigmatized groups (Cherry, 2004). Clark was tasked to investigate intergroup relations after a fight broke out in front of a synagogue in Coney Island (Cherry, 2004). As part of the CCI, he met Isidor Chein, whom he would partner with, in the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), to draft the document that would be given to the Supreme Court in Brown (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004).

It was the NAACP-Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDEF) who would be the ones to challenge segregation at the Supreme Court level (Jackson Jr., 2001). The initial strategy of the NAACP was to focus on education as a resource. They needed to provide evidence that segregation influenced the quality of education (Pettigrew, 2004). This was established through the inequality of resources argument. This meant that even when segregated, the schools were not given the same resources to allow for children to prosper. In the same districts, less money was spent on segregated African American schools, facilities, and curriculum. The NAACP was able to win small cases one-by-one; but soon realized that this would take a long time, as each school district would have to be fought separately (Bergner, 2009).

It was in 1951 when the NAACP-LDEF approached Clark, after speaking with Otto Klineberg (his Ph.D. advisor) who recommended Clark as an ally in the fight against segregation (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The NAACP recruited Clark and asked for his testimony in the first case in South Carolina; he used the evidence from the studies mentioned previously, especially the doll study, to validate the claim that segregation was not beneficial to society (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). In fact, Clark argued that segregation is psychologically damaging to African American children’s self-esteem (Bergner, 2009). The NAACP’s information on the inequality of school spending worked in conjunction with Clark’s information on the internalization of society’s racial values in school children. The lack of funding which created unequal facilities stimulated an imbalance that school children may have noticed. If there is some interaction between children of different socially constructed racial categories, then maybe they could internalize those values.

As mentioned, Clark worked with Isidor Chein to draft a document that would be used in the Supreme Court case. Stuart W. Cook, also a member of the SPSSI committee, co-authored the paper as well (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The document consisted of a summary of all psychological evidence up until September of 1952; it was submitted as an appendix to the NAACP’s brief (Clark, Chein, & Cook, 2004; Bergner, 2009). A key detail in the document was this, “…certain conclusions seem to be justified on the basis of the available scientific evidence,” (emphasis added, Clark et al., 2004). There is an acknowledgement of the use of scientific knowledge as a partial basis for the decision to desegregate. The citation that follows this statement in the Brown v. Board of Education decision cites only psychological evidence; of which, Clark’s name is mentioned first. It can then be argued that this is the instant when psychology was recognized as a real science.

The document, known as the Social Science Statement, defines segregation in terms of a restriction of opportunities which is supported by an official body, which in this case is considered to be the government (Clark et al., 2004). It clearly states that, “the effects of segregation…. do not take place in a vacuum, but in a social context… in a social milieu in which ‘race’ prejudice and discrimination exist,” (Clark et al., 2004).The document implies segregation causes feelings of inferiority because it creates an awareness of differences in social status (Clark et al., 2004). They focus again on the context, citing evidence that intelligence differences are due to environmental influences, not race. The next task of the document was to address the feasibility of desegregation. They cited examples of workplaces, armed services, and housing situations where desegregation occurred without significant uprisings (Clark et al., 2004). Consistent enforcement of legal policies from government bodies is suggested as the method for creating favourable attitudes (Clark et al., 2004). The concept of psychological damage would later take form as a result of this research. Segregation, by implying inferiority, would cause self-hatred and desegregation would be considered a way to undo the damage causing these negative feelings (Steele, 2004).

In the final decision, the Supreme Court cited a document of Clark’s, written in 1950, about his (and Mamie’s) research at the time (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). During the reading of the Court’s decision, Chief Justice Warren, only revealed that, “Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority,” (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). And so, segregation was deemed in violation of equal protection under the law under the 14th Amendment; however, the court called for suggestions on a timetable and a reasonable procedure for integration (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). Again, Clark was called in, along with other social scientists, to prepare a brief that would provide recommendations (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The Supreme Court announced their follow-up decision on May 31st, 1955 which is now often referred to as Brown II (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004; Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). The Court decided, based on the social scientists’ recommendations to, “…admit the parties to these cases to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed,” (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

As a result of desegregation, the college audience for social science research increased; research conducted by Clark and his colleagues could reach a wider and more diverse group of people (Brown v. Board of Education, 1955). However, it took some time before Clark was recognized as instrumental, despite having his own name cited in the case (Brown v. Board of Education, 1955). The American Psychological Association gave no official recognition for any of the psychologists cited, including Kenneth B. Clark (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). It was not until the 1960s when some involved in the American civil rights movement unearthed Clark’s work and brought it into the public eye (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). Clark’s work was criticized at the time for the focus on self-hatred and the appearance of biases in the methods of his research (Lewis, 2004; Bergner, 2009).  A clear example of this came from an identification made by Clark himself regarding the doll studies. He realized that when children were asked to identify with a doll before asking which one they preferred, they tended to pick the same doll; so he reversed the order of questioning (Clark & Clark, 1947; Bergner, 2009).

Some contemporary critics do not agree with the Clarks’ methods and/or conclusions from their studies and consequently the use in the Brown decision. Judgements include inconsistent groupings of the children (i.e. light versus medium versus dark-skinned), the skin colours provided for line-drawing experiments and of the dolls, and finally the questioning techniques (Kendler, 2002). Patterson (2001)questioned why the Clarks concluded thatit was segregation that caused the disparity between actual and perceived skin colour of the children. Instead, Patterson (2001)suggests Clark disregarded any influences due to poverty or discrimination. A similar idea to Henry Garrett’s is raised, where schools only containing African Americans may better serve the children because they would not face competition from white students who would do much better (Patterson, 2001). Garrett believed that segregation would allow African Americans to prosper because then they could receive an education that catered to their strengths, which he believed to be art, athletics, and music (Winston, 1998).

Other disapproval stems from the ability to remain objective as scientists (Jackson Jr., 2001). If a scientist truly believed that segregation was wrong, these preconceptions could create a confirmation bias in the experiment, translating into results that conform to the scientist’s beliefs. The research that would be cited in the Brown decision, would be based on years of research leading up to it; much of it the Clarks’, studying the effects of segregation on racial identification. A conflict of interest could be considered in terms of Clark’s involvement with the case because of his close ties with the NAACP’s work to end segregation and his research which was directly used as evidence.

Scientific Racism

Scientific racism is a concept that began to take shape around the end of the nineteenth century. The idea focuses on two main aspects; 1) traits are stable over generations due to heredity and 2) the white European race is the superior race (Jackson Jr. & Weidman, 2005/2006). How does scientific racism relate to Kenneth Clark’s research and involvement in the Brown v. Board of Education case? Clark definitely did not believe in either of these conditions. As a result, his work can be considered a counterargument to scientific racism, even though he focused on a population with similar physical characteristics, one of which (skin colour) has been used as a marker for racial categories for a long time.

It can be argued that Clark did not believe that traits were stable over time. In his research, he focussed on the effect that the social environment had on African Americans. He believed it was the American culture that resulted from historical instances of inequality that created the negative psychological effects (Freeman, 2011). His goal was to study race consciousness, which he defined as, “…consciousness of self as belonging to a specific group which is differentiated from other groups by obvious physical characteristics,” (Clark & Clark, 1939b). In another of his studies, he discusses personality, “… feelings of inadequacy and inferiority which seem to become integrated into the very structure of the personality as it is developing,” (Clark & Clark, 1950). Again, Clark emphasized that the segregated environment is a cause for change. The negative psychological effects that he believed had on the African American community is not innate nor could they be transmitted to offspring. In addition, he focused on the ability for positive change. If the right social action is taken, then relations between these groups could become stronger, and therefore reduce the negative psychological effects (Clark et al., 2004).

Furthermore, it can be argued that Clark did not believe in the second condition of scientific racism; he did not believe in white supremacy or the supremacy of any race. His fight for education equality demonstrates this fact. He never advocated that African Americans deserved more than white Americans. He pointed out that they only way to change the attitudes of Americans were to have people come together in conditions of equality, whether it be in education, housing, or public spaces (Jackson Jr., 2001). There was a general concern that white supremacy was a part of American culture (Freeman, 2011). It cannot be forgotten thatsegregation was initially instated to prevent African Americans from mixing with white Americans (Bergner, 2009). Consequently, it is difficult to argue that white supremacy was never involved in the earlier decision, of Plessy v. Ferguson to keep segregation, because it maintained the previous status quo.

It can be concluded that Clark did not take part in scientific racism as defined by the two conditions outlined above. The Clarks’ studies were conducted on the basis of race, nevertheless, he continuously states that race is a social construct. Accordingly, his research may fall under the category of ‘race research’. It must be considered, however, that his research was necessary. Would the NAACP have had enough evidence to ensure the same result, that segregation would become illegal? It is a difficult answer when examining the past. There were other studies cited in Footnote 11 of Brown v. Board of Education, but it was really Clark who was at the centre of all the efforts, especially those organized by the NAACP. He bridged the gap between the NAACP and social scientists. His name and work were central in all the evidence submitted by the NAACP to the Supreme Court. Regardless of the fact that some of his results show mixed results and biases in questions asked, it was the science of the time that was necessary to achieve equality of all people.

CONCLUSION

“[Race] has permeated every facet of American culture – its laws, its language, its political ideologies,” (Philogène, 2004a).  This statement reflects the impact that racial ideology has had on America. The distinction between races is evident in the past when examining segregation. Segregation emphasized the apparent differences between groups, even when the distinction was based on nothing but physical characteristics. Kenneth and Mamie Clarks’ research attempted to demonstrate the harmful effects segregation had on the African American population. They reasoned racial identification and racial consciousness began in childhood, but there was hope that this could change.

The Clarks’ research formed the basis of the social scientific reason for the Supreme Court’s decision which would be recognized as significant because it declared segregation violated the 14th Amendment and it validated psychology as a science (Benjamin Jr. & Crouse, 2004). The Brown v. Board of Education decision just over seventy years ago has had a lasting effect. The use of racial categorization has not completely disappeared today, but the 1954 decision was mandatory for change to be triggered on a larger scale. We must still work towards a future with more equality by recognizing that society still shows favouritism towards certain groups of people. But, with dedication and hard work, like those whose legacy we see today, maybe one day we can achieve that goal.

References

Benjamin Jr., L.T., & Crouse, E.M. (2004). The American Psychological Association’s response to Brown v. Board of Education: The case of Kenneth B. Clark. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (231-253). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Bergner, G. (2009). Black children, white preference: Brown v. Board, the doll tests and the politics of self-esteem. American Quarterly, 61(2), 299-332.

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). Retrieved from: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/347/483/case.html#F11

Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 75 S. Ct. 753, 99 L. Ed. 1083 (1955). Retrieved from: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/349/294/

Cherry, F. (2004). Kenneth B. Clark and social psychology’s other history. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (17-33). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Clark, K. B., Chein, I., & Cook, S. W. (2004). The effects of segregation and the consequences of desegregation: A (September 1952) social science statement in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case. American Psychologist, 59(6), 495-501.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1950). Emotional factors in racial identification and preference in Negro children. The Journal of Negro Education, 19(3), 341-350.

Clark, K. B., & Clark, M. P. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children. In Readings in Social Psychology (169-178). New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1939a). Segregation as a factor in the racial identification of Negro pre-school children: A preliminary report. The Journal of Experimental Education, 8(2), 161-163.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1940). Skin colour as a factor in racial identification of Negro preschool children. The Journal of Social Psychology, 11, 159-169.

Clark, K.B., & Clark, M.P. (1939b). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence of racial identification in Negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, 10(4), 591-599.

Freeman, D. (2011). Reconsidering Kenneth B. Clark and the idea of black psychological damage, 1931-1945. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 8(1), 271-283

Jackson Jr., J.P. (2001). Social scientists for social justice: Making the case against segregation. New York: New York University Press.

Jackson Jr., J.P., & Weidman, N.M. (2005/2006). The origins of scientific racism. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 50, 66-79.

Kendler, H.H. (2002). A personal encounter with psychology (1937-2002). History of Psychology, 5(1), 52-84.

Keppel, B. (2002). Kenneth B. Clark in the patterns of American culture. American Psychologist, 57(1), 29-37.

Lewis, L.J. (2004). Introduction: Creating an identity: An analysis of Kenneth B. Clark’s influence on the psychology of identity. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (53-60). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Patterson, J.T (2001). Brown v. Board of Education: A civil rights milestone and its troubled legacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pettigrew, T.F. (2004). Racial integration today: Revisiting Kenneth B. Clark’s vision. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (35-49). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Philogène, G. (2004a). Introduction: Race as a defining feature of American culture. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (3-11). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Philogène, G. (2004b). Introduction: Visions of democracy and equality. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (15-16). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Steele, C.M. (2004). Kenneth B. Clark’s context and mine: Toward a context-based theory of social identity threat. In G. Philogène Editor, Racial identity in context (61-76). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

United States of America Constitution (n.d.). 14th Amendment. Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv

Winston, A.S. (1998). Science in the service of the far right: Henry E. Garrett, the IAAEE, and the Liberty Lobby. Journal of Social Issues, 54(1), 179-210.

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