Now that I am officially Dr. Brown, I’ve been catching up on all the pop culture I’ve missed out on while working on my dissertation. If you know the format of reality shows that revolve around wealthy women and their lives, there’s always somebody throwing a party or an event at their home. Sometimes they have themes like the party based on dolls thrown in a recent episode of Married to Medicine L.A., the West coast spinoff of the Bravo reality show based in Atlanta.
During this episode, the group of Black women medical doctors and wives of medical doctors that the show centers on gathered together at the home of one of their own, Jazmin Johnson. For this event’s theme, Jazmin asked that the women come dressed as a doll and only a handful of the women complied. After the women gathered together at a table, Jazmin asked the group what they felt about the doll-centric theme.
Dr. Noelle Reid, a cast member who works as a family physician, opened up that she felt the theme was problematic. She referenced research that shows that dolls have negatively affected Black girls and described her own struggle of encouraging her daughter to see herself despite the limited options of toys that reflect Black girls.
The Clark Doll Experiment
I am assuming that Noelle was referencing the study by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, a married pair of Black psychologists, who did a groundbreaking experiment later cited in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. During the experiment, the psychologists showed children a set of four dolls – two white and two black – then proceeded to ask them how they felt about the doll and how they felt about themselves. The children, regardless of race, responded that they preferred the white dolls over the Black dolls.
Yes. You read that right – both White and Black children expressed a preference for the white dolls and their features. Furthermore, the children associated the white dolls with goodness while they associated the black dolls with bad. While this study was done during the 1930s and 1940s, recent replications in the twenty-first century show that this is still an issue (see video below).
What Married to Medicine L.A. teaches us About Biracial Black Girls and Dolls
Some of the Black women gathered at the table during this episode appeared to have observed similar struggles in their daughters or experienced it for themselves. For example, when the topic of her came up, they discussed how Black some are pressured to straighten their hair because of the way society associates beautiful hair with length, blondness, and lack of texture.
However, what I did not expect to see, was the perspective of the biracial Black women at the table. Jazmin and another cast member, Dr. Britten Cole, explained that dolls caused a tension for them too albeit for different reasons. Both women are what some members of U.S. society would describe as racially ambiguous. To be more specific, they are the type of Black people that everyone assumes are mixed or not Black at all, depending on their own level of investment in the one drop rule and the Black-White racial dichotomy.
Jazmin and Britten expressed that for them, black dolls represented what they aspired to be seen as because their European features made people make assumptions about them and their Blackness. Jazmin went on to explain that the theme and the party itself were an intended to move beyond those assumptions, as she also had the brown-skinned women in her family including her mother and sister seated at the table with her. In addition,she described how people would not allow her to have a sense of self by denying her her own family, questioning whether or not she and her sister were related at times when they went out together.
The Importance of Representation Among Dolls for Black Girls
Even though its 2019, Married to Medicine L.A. shows us the lingering effects of negative socialization about Blackness and beauty for women and girls. Some people might think dolls are just harmless objects. However, one important observation the women in this episode made is that these dolls reflect what society teaches people is desirable and worthy. In conclusion, when there is limited representation of Black women and girls in media, Black women and girls searching for themselves are left wanting.