Resistance, Not Psychological Damage

  • October 12, 2022 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
  • Bard Graduate Center

    38 West 86th Street
    New York, New York 10024
Ticket Price $0.00-$15.00 This event is now over

Resistance, Not Psychological Damage: Re-Evaluating the Clark Doll Tests
A lecture by Robin Bernstein (Harvard), followed by a conversation with Freyja Hartzell (BGC) and Dominique Jean-Louis (New-York Historical Society)
October 12 at 6 pm
Bard Graduate Center, 38 West 86th Street, Lecture Hall

In the mid-twentieth century, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted their famous “doll test” in which they asked African American children whether they preferred Black or white dolls. Most children identified white dolls as “nice” and Black dolls as “bad”—proof, the Clarks argued, that segregation psychologically damaged Black children.  These findings figured pivotally in Brown v. Board of Education. In this lecture, Robin Bernstein defamiliarizes the “doll test” by locating it not in the history of Civil Rights but instead in a history of representational play—violently racist practices of play that were, for a century, coordinated through Black dolls.

Image credit: Gordon Parks, Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1947. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation. 

Robin Bernstein is a cultural historian who specializes in US racial formation from the nineteenth century to the present. A professor at Harvard University, Bernstein is the author of the award winning book, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights. She has received a Public Scholars Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the William Riley Parker Prize for the best article in the journal PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association), and the Darwin T. Turner Award for the best article in the journal African American Review. She is currently completing a book about the origins of industrial prison labor in the antebellum North. Visit her online at

Date & Time

Wed, Oct 12, 2022 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

Venue Details

Bard Graduate Center

38 West 86th Street
New York, New York 10024 Bard Graduate Center
Bard Graduate Center

Bard Graduate Center is devoted to the study of decorative arts, design history, and material culture through research, advanced degrees, exhibitions, publications, and events.

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