FOX13 Gets Real: Women of color struggling to feel equal in America

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a world where African American women often say they are made to feel less than others, FOX13 talked to mothers and daughters who say their experiences hurt their self-esteem.

We found a lack of black women on TV and in leadership positions has a true impact on girls as young as five years old.

Experiments where psychologists take a white doll and a black doll and ask young African American girls which doll they consider beautiful have been conducted since the 1960s.

FOX13′s Siobhan Riley did that experiment with a 5- and 6-year-old in Frayser. Both had similar responses. The response made one mother so uncomfortable she asked us not to air her daughter’s interview. The other mother allowed us to share her 6-year-old’s story.

FOX13 asked Zori Austin, 6, which Barbie doll she considered the smart Barbie.

“This one, because on TV she’s in school,” said Austin who pointed to the white Barbie.

“And which one is not the smart barbie?” Riley asked.

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“This one because she’s not on TV, and she’s not in school,” Austin said while pointing to the Black Barbie.

Austin’s response was no different than the reply we’ve been hearing from African American girls for decades.

“Which one did you tell me you consider pretty?” Riley asked the 6-year-old.

“This one because she has my favorite color, and their faces doesn’t look the same and this is Barbie,” she answered.

“Why is she Barbie?” Riley asked.

“Because she has the same face and looks like on TV,” Austin replied.

"She does see the white Barbie on TV, because you know there’s a show called “Barbie’s Dream House,” said Austin’s mother, Dasha Johnson.

“She’s the main character and that doll is Barbie, and I was like OK. And when she was like the darker Barbie isn’t smart, I was like where is that coming from?”

Mekel Harris is a licensed family health psychologist. She told FOX13 the struggles African American women face in society stem from a dark past.

“The ideas about colorism and associated racism are so deeply entrenched in the fabric of America beginning with colonization of the New World to slavery and it’s been passed down to generation to generation that we’re still hearing stories that our grandmother’s told,” Harris said.

RELATED: Being Black in America: Generational Pain

FOX13 asked Harris what she believes it will take to make African American girls and women feel like they do matter.

“Within families, we have got to talk about race, whether we’re white or anything else on the color spectrum, we need to have conversations to let people know that we are valuable just the way we are,” Harris said.

Sharon Moore said she and her two daughters struggle with this topic daily, particularly because they live in Collierville, where they are the minority.

“I remember being at school, and there was a white young lady, and she was comparing me to a lighter skin girl. She said, ‘Oh, you’re pretty, but like you’re pretty for your type.’ And I was trying to comprehend what does that mean,” said Candace Moore, 16.

Chloe, 13, Moore recalled a conversation with her teacher before she and her family moved to Tennessee from Michigan.

“I used the word evaporation, and she said, ‘Don’t use that word. Use the one that you use.’ I was confused. I didn’t really know what it meant considering I was in 2nd grade. I was eight years old. I was trying to figure out what does she mean by the word I use? That is the word that I use,” Chloe Moore said.

Christin Graves said she just started talking with her three children about race, especially because her adopted niece is Black.

“Take them to the Lorraine, talk about if you see people who look different than you,” said Graves. "Their skin may be darker than you, but we’re all the same. And if you see anyone mistreating someone because of the way they look, you speak up for them. "

FOX13 asked Johnson what kind of conversations she will have with her child moving forward.

RELATED: Black in America: Generational Healing

“We probably need to change,” she said. "Probably limit how much we watch TV, read more, because it’s so many books that have African American characters in them and are beautifully illustrated. "

“I think that our society, I’m speaking of America only, is starting to shift a little bit with media exposure,” said Harris. "What comes to mind is Viola Davis and her serving in a leading role as a darker skin woman. I think that the more we can see ourselves on screen, that’s going to make a difference. "

Harris told FOX13 she presented data to the Shelby County Schools Mental Health team.

It shows African American girls start feeling this way when they are as young as two years old.

The 5-year-old not featured in this story who we interviewed referred to the Black doll as uneducated.

The young girls also said they loved the white barbie’s blue eyes and blonde hair.