Last year, following the inauguration of the country's first black president, "Good Morning America" revisited the experiment. This time, at least some of the results were markedly different: of the 19 black children surveyed, 42 percent said they'd rather play with a black doll compared with 32 percent for the white doll. But when asked which doll was prettier, nearly half of the girls in the group chose the white doll.
"Black children develop perceptions about their race very early. They are not oblivious to this. There's still that residue. There's still the problem, the overcoming years, decades of racial and economic subordination," Harvard University professor William Julius Wilson told "Good Morning America."
Wade said that Walmart could have chosen to keep the dolls at equal prices in an effort not to "reproduce whatever ugly inequalities are out there."
But Sociological Images co-author Gwen Sharp, a sociology professor at Nevada State College, said that inequality might not necessarily be what's behind Ballerina Theresa's lagging sales.
Black parents, she said, may simply choose black dolls whose physical features hew more closely to those of themselves and their children. Barbie has weathered critcism in the past for producing dolls that bear little resemblance to the ethnicities they represent.
"Maybe for both parents and kids, it seems more real and less symbolic of a change to have a doll that actually presents a range of attractive features rather than 'Oh we've changed the skin tone slightly,'" Sharp said.
Last year, Barbie manufacturer Mattel debuted a new line of African American dolls, "So In Style," designed to better resemble black women's facial features with wider cheeks, broader noses and fuller lips.
"I wanted to make sure that the makeup and face and skin tone was true to girls in my community," doll designer Stacey McBride-Irby said in a video on the So In Style Web site.
A Mattel spokeswoman said that the So In Style dolls have met with a "great response" and are part of the toymaker's 2010 catalogue.
Whatever Ballerina Tesesa's lagging sales may say about society, retail analyst Lori Wachs said Walmart may ultimately regret their pricing choice. The discount giant, which reported a quarterly profit of $4.7 billion last month, could have absorbed whatever loss it might have suffered had it kept Ballerina Teresa's price the same as that of Ballerina Barbie.
"I fully respect retailers rights to mark things down as they see fit but I also think they need to look at the bigger picture," Wachs said. "I think there are certain things companies have to be sensitive about and clearly this was one of them."