Photos: Rainbow Rites (The Healing) and Heartbeats, paintings by Murray Archibald for Sundance 1996 and 2003.
A Better World
On a recent morning I was scrolling through my Facebook News Feed, and I came upon a video that I couldn’t get out of my head. On further investigation, I learned that it was based on experiments conducted by Kenneth Bancroft Clark and his wife Mamie Phipps Clark in the 1940s. The Clarks were distinguished African-American psychologists, active in the Civil Rights Movement. Their experiments used identical (except for color), black and white dolls to study children’s attitudes about race.
The Clarks’ work played a part in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation in public education was unconstitutional.
In the experiment, African-American children ages six to nine were shown the two dolls and asked a series of questions including: “Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,” “Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,” “Show me the doll that looks ‘bad.’” The last question asked the children to identify the doll that looked like them.”
In 2005, student Kiri Davis repeated the experiment in Harlem as a part of her film A Girl Like Me, and in 2009 Good Morning America on ABC also repeated the experiment. The Facebook video I saw, bore an MSNBC logo on it, and though it was not clear to me exactly who filmed it, the results were haunting. The face of those young children when they were asked to identify the doll that was like them, after they had picked that doll as the bad doll, was heartbreaking.
In recent years, CAMP Rehoboth has taken up much of my time and energy; I haven’t been able to get much work done in my studio. For many of my previous art shows, however, there was quite often an underlying theme that had to do with healing—heart healing, soul healing—much of it stemming from the dark days of the AIDS epidemic in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Witnessing this racial experiment made me realize how much I had been thinking about healing lately—and even why the very name of CAMP Rehoboth is an acronym for Creating A More Positive world.
Creating a world that celebrates equality is the first step in preventing society inflicted wounds. We have in recent decades made huge progress against racism, sexism, and homophobia, but we are all still so quick to turn on those who are different from ourselves. We are still, no matter how enlightened and compassionate we believe ourselves to be, products of the world in which we live. As children, we absorb the prejudices and fear around us without even knowing that it is wrong. As adults we have to make conscious decisions to open up our hearts and allow old wounds to be healed. That’s why coming out of the closet is such a liberating—and healing—experience.
The stress and inner conflict of the children in the doll video, was starkly visible in their eyes and facial expressions, and will haunt my dreams for days to come. At the same time, they are deeply inspiring to me—and I am more determined than ever to make our message here at CAMP Rehoboth one of acceptance and love for everyone, gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor.
Since January, the CAMP Rehoboth Board of Directors has been involved in the year-long “Achieving Board Excellence” program of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA). The experience has been very helpful to the members of our Board. As a part of that program all the Board members took part in an online self-assessment survey, the results of which were used to determine where our priorities should be in the future. The first thing on the list of items about which we were strongly in agreement was an understanding and deep commitment to the mission CAMP Rehoboth.
That mission has been stated in the beginning of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth for decades, and remains the foundation of all that we do as an organization. In the words of that mission statement, we are: “…dedicated to creating a more positive environment…,” and to “…promote cooperation and understanding among all people, as we seek to create safe, inclusive communities with room for all.” Among other things, it goes on to say that we “promote human and civil rights,” and “work against prejudice and discrimination.”
Having been at the very first meetings when CAMP Rehoboth was founded, I remember the care with which our mission was crafted. I’m glad to see it remains the foundation of our organization. I hope that our presence over the last 25 years has helped members of our community and their families be proud of who they are.
I’ve said it before in these pages; I believe that we cannot fully love others unless we are able to love ourselves. In any situation where we allow the world to create self-hatred in us, not only are we being hurt, but so are the people around us.
Though they know not what they do, conservative churches do that all the time, which is why many of us work so hard to put an end to church language that demonizes LGBT people. I’m not sure how religious conservatives can be so blind to the understanding that in wounding others, they are hurting their own ability to reach a generation more and more alienated by hypocrisy and rejection.
The work of creating a more positive world for all of us—the work of making this a better world for all people—is not a gay or a straight thing. It’s a human one. No child should ever be made to see themselves as unworthy, as ugly, or as bad simply for being who they are.
Murray Archibald, CAMP Co-founder and President of the Board of Directors of CAMP Rehoboth, is an artist in Rehoboth Beach.