Feature

During the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, educational psychologists Kenneth B. Clark, PhD, and Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, presented to the Supreme Court their evidence that school segregation harmed black children (see page 58). Their studies showing that black children viewed black dolls as inferior to white dolls particularly influenced the judges' decision to end segregation.

Fifty years later, APA has published a book that is a tribute to and evaluation of this work. "Racial Identity in Context: The Legacy of Kenneth B. Clark" includes chapters by more than 20 psychologists who discuss Kenneth B. Clark's life and work and also the evolving role of racial identity in the United States.

The book was inspired by an APA-sponsored conference, "Race and identity: perspectives on American society," held in 2001 at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. At the conference, African-American and other psychologists gathered to reassess and review the involvement of social psychology with the issue of race, both historically and in the present, says Gina Philogène, PhD, a professor of social psychology at Sarah Lawrence, who organized the conference and edited the book.

She says she used the conference to discuss Clark's work and its continuing relevance today--and the book does the same.

"I was concerned with the fact that there have been relatively few references to the work and legacy of Kenneth Clark, and I was surprised that he had not been celebrated much more by our discipline," she says.

The book opens, Philogène explains, with a historical introduction to Clark's work and how it was grounded in Kurt Lewin's "social action research"--work in the community rather than only in a lab. Like Lewin, Clark believed that research could spur social activism and empower community members to change society for the better, notes Philogène.

The book also includes an article that examines how Clark's vision of racial integration has played out over the last 50 years.

"[Clark] predicted the course of school desegregation in 1953," says chapter author Thomas Pettigrew, PhD, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied race relations for more than 50 years and is a friend of Clark's. In Pettigrew's view, the reality of desegregation hasn't measured up to the truly integrative spirit of the law.

"He said that [integration] would occur to the degree that authorities and government worked for it," explains Pettigrew. "And I think that his prediction was right on target. They haven't generally supported it, and it's still taking a very long time."

The rest of the book moves from Clark's specific work to focus on more general questions of racial identity--such as how society has collectively constructed notions of race, how names like "black" and "African American" reflect and influence group identity and how racial prejudice continues to influence African-American identity in the United States.

Overall, says Philogène, the book is a reflection of the reach of Clark's work, rather than a systematic recounting of his contributions to the discipline.

"It's really celebrating the profound influence he has had on social psychology," she says, "and specifically issues of race in American culture."

Further Reading

The book may be ordered online.