Saturday morning a group of around 40 people gathered in the DuPont library at the Stratford Hall plantation for a showing of the documentary, “American Denial.” The short film follows the life of researcher, Gunnar Myrdal whose study, An American Dilemma delves into the differences between what Americans perceive as their beliefs about race and what their actual beliefs are.
Starting in 1938, Myrdal, a Swedish economist, conducted a study of the economic and social situations of black people living in the South. Employed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, he was chosen because he was an outsider who would have an unbiased view of what was called the “Negro problem.”
In his research, and espoused in the film, Myrdal found a deep contradiction between what values Americans said they believed in, freedom, equality, and democracy, and the systemic oppression and discrimination of Blacks in America.
An American Dilemma was result of Myrdal’s study. American Denial not only looks into Myrdal’s life, but also into modern America to see if racial dynamics have changed since then. One of the most shocking moments in American Denial is the “Doll Test” in which children were given black and white dolls and asked to choose which doll was prettier, which one was good, and which one was more like themselves. In the majority of cases the white dolls were chosen as good and prettier by all children, black and white. The original study was also used in the case that ended segregation in education, Brown vs. the Board of Education, to prove that Black children were being harmed by the “separate, but equal” policies. Jon Bachman, Manager of Public Events at Stratford Hall, brought this film to the board of directors and was immediately given the go ahead to form a program to show this to not only the public, but the staff of the plantation.