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Only white girls can be princesses

By Stephen Hagan - posted Thursday, 29 March 2007

Reverend Jesse Jackson, American civil rights leader, once said: “Today's students can put dope in their veins or hope in their brains. If they can conceive it and believe it, they can achieve it. They must know it is not their aptitude but their attitude that will determine their altitude.”

On any given day those who also use the computer regularly, filter out a myriad of spam and unrelated work emails to try to access and action, the bread and butter correspondence that pays the bills.

In recent years I’ve found my name on a number of Indigenous and social justice network email lists from which daily posting of media alerts or advertisements are placed in my inbox from known and unknown authors who believe their items are compelling reading. On most occasions I give the inconsequential postings a quick flick - but occasionally an important breaking news item or media clip captures my attention and I take a breather from work to view it in its entirety.


One such email media clip that did the rounds recently, and has certainly had the chins wagging at many office work stations, is the unbelievable story by Kiri Davis. Kiri, a 17-year-old African American filmmaker based in New York City, whose eight-minute documentary, A Girl Like Me (2005) touches on the delicate topic of race - or more specifically colour prejudice.

When just 16 and a student at the Urban Academy, Kiri became interested in Brown v Board of Education, especially Dr Kenneth Clark's groundbreaking study of colour preferences among young, black children. She tried to repeat Clark's study and asked children to choose between one of two dolls: a white and a black-skinned doll. Fifteen out of the 21 children preferred the white doll when asked to chose “the nice doll”.

The documentary that resulted includes, in addition to selections from her repeat study, interviews with friends who talk about the importance of colour, hair quality and facial features for young black woman today in the United States.

Kiri Davis' mother, an education consultant, wanted to raise her daughter to be proud of her race and colour. At a young age, however, she learned that many prefer lighter skin colour.

Kiri posed a number of questions to the New York children representing her study group, aged around 4 to 5 years: which doll do you prefer; which doll do you like best; which doll do you like to play with; can you show me the nice doll; why is that the nice doll; which doll looks bad; and which doll looks like you.

I sat transfixed to my computer screen and immediately hit the replay button for a second look to fathom what I had just witnessed. I must admit I was shocked to see such candid comments from little black boys and girls who gave unambiguous responses to challenging questions.


When asked what she remembered when she was young Kiri recalled her desire to “be a princess” but knew that was not possible because she was led to believe only “white girls could be a princess”.

On another question of what message she wanting to give from the documentary Kiri commented: “I hoped that there will not be a good or bad doll identified (in a similar experiment) by the next generation of black children who participate.”

The reason I was astounded by this short documentary was the fact there are literally tens of thousands of positive black role models in the public eye in music, sport, politics, movies and professional careers throughout the United States for all black children or all interests groups and social backgrounds to identify with.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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