A photo first posted to the humor Web site FunnyJunk.com and later to the Latino Web site Guanabee.com shows packages of Mattel's Ballerina Barbie and Ballerina Teresa dolls hanging side by side at an unidentified store. The Teresa dolls, which feature brown skin and dark hair, are marked as being on sale at $3.00. The Barbies to the right of the Teresa dolls, meanwhile, retain their original price of $5.93. The dolls look identical aside from their color.
Editors at Guanabee.com said the person responsible for the photo told the Web site that it was taken at a Louisiana Walmart store. The person did not return e-mails from ABCNews.com.
A Walmart spokeswoman, who could not verify the exact store shown in the photo, said that the price change on the Teresa doll was part of the chain's efforts to clear shelf space for its new spring inventory.
"To prepare for (s)pring inventory, a number of items are marked for clearance, " spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said in an e-mail. "... Both are great dolls. The red price sticker indicates that this particular doll was on clearance when the photo was taken, and though both dolls were priced the same to start, one was marked down due to its lower sales to hopefully increase purchase from customers."
"Pricing like items differently is a part of inventory management in retailing," O'Brien said.
But critics say Walmart should have been more sensitive in its pricing choice.
"The implication of the lowering of the price is that's devaluing the black doll," said Thelma Dye, the executive director of the Northside Center for Child Development, a Harlem, N.Y. organization founded by pioneering psychologists and segregation researchers Kenneth B. Clark and Marnie Phipps Clark.
"While it's clear that's not what was intended, sometimes these things have collateral damage," Dye said.
Other experts agree. Walmart could have decided "that it's really important that we as a company don't send a message that we value blackness less than whiteness," said Lisa Wade, an assistant sociology professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles and the founder of the blog Sociological Images.
Last year, Wade posted a blog entry on another case where a black doll was apparently priced less than its white counterpart at an unidentified store. Wade said that when white dolls outsell black dolls, it's usually because black parents are more likely than white parents to buy their children dolls of a different race.
"Most white parents wouldn't think to buy a black doll for their child, even if they believe in equality and all those things," she said.
Decades after segregation and the civil rights movement, studies show Americans -- both black and white -- continue to internalize the heirarchical notion that lighter skin tone is considered "better than" darker, Wade said.
One landmark study revealing color hierarchies among black children took place in the 1940s. Run by the Clarks, Northside's founders, the study asked a group of black children to choose between playing with white dolls and black dolls; 63 percent chose the white dolls.