Study shows "Obama Effect" short-lived in city children


There has been speculation - indeed hope - that the "Obama Effect" would help Black children become more confident and proud of their heritage. But a year-long study by Dr. Dorothea Braginsky, professor of psychology at Fairfield University, shows that a problem of reverse racial preference, identified by the Clark and Clark study in the 1940s, may be more entrenched and more difficult to erase than originally thought.

Dr. Braginsky and her students began their study with first and third grade Black children last May when Barack Obama's popularity was on the upswing and he looked destined to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. At that time, each child was shown three dolls (White, Black and Hispanic). At that time only 8 percent of the children preferred the Black doll and 46 percent said that the Black doll looked bad.

In November, following Obama's historic election, Dr. Braginsky and her students did a second study, again with first and third grade students, and found a dramatic change. Sixty-nine percent of the children preferred the black doll and  only 23 percent said it looked bad.

However, just a few months later, in February, following the precise method used in the two earlier studies, 1st and 3rd grade boys and girls were administered the Doll Preferences Test. At that time, only 10 percent liked the Black doll and those that saw the Black doll as bad had shot up to 65 percent. All the children studied were from the same urban public school setting in the Northeast.

Dr. Braginsky called the findings troubling. "It's very profound that the children have not changed from the 1940s." She attributes the November bump to the fervor that erupted as their parents and neighbors celebrated that "he won" and the general sense in their communities that "we won." Dr. Braginsky says "Why it reverted so quickly has to be looked into. How do you sustain the good feelings and convert them into higher self-esteem and aspirations?"

Dr. Braginsky speculated that things might be different for upper middle class Black children, "but working class and underclass children are in line with what Civil Rights leaders are saying, that the struggle isn't over yet. As long as massive unemployment and poor housing conditions continue, I think they will find it hard to identify with the Obama presidency."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 17, 2009

Vol. 41, No. 308