Marcelle Taylor Dougan: Protecting Black Children From Racism

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All parents want to protect their children, but for Dr. Marcelle Taylor Dougan, protecting them from racism is a challenge.

Three times last month, my Black sons, aged 13 and 12, heard other children their age using the “n” word, at school and at soccer, two places they should feel safest. As my husband and I, who are also Black, helped them navigate the shame and hurt they felt, I wondered what else we could have done to prepare them for this.

Five years ago, driving north on 280 , we came upon an obstruction marked by orange cones. My husband was driving, changed lanes and apparently cut off a white man. He was so angry. After we cleared the obstruction, he got in front of us, slamming his breaks. Eventually he moved his Jeep Wrangler next to us, gave us the finger, and called out the “n” word, making what I later realized were monkey gestures. My kids, 8 and 7 at the time, were in the back seat, horrified.

“What did he say? Did he say ‘cheater’?”

In that moment, I wasn’t prepared to teach them what the “n” word meant, so I said yes, he did.


It wasn’t until I pulled out my phone and started recording that the coward scurried off the highway.

I do not recall the first conversation we had about the “n” word with our sons. Our weapon of choice has always been to work hard and excel. That way, the racists have less power. That is what I have tried to apply in my own life, although the experience of racism continues to sting and shock and set me back.

I cannot help feeling, though, that my boys should not have to carry the burden of working extra hard to prove their worth. Also, the last thing I want for them is to attribute every setback or negative experience to race. It’s a constant struggle to help them focus on what they can control, while not giving power to what they cannot.

I know it’s their reality, but it still makes me mad. And it makes me feel powerless.

With a Perspective, I’m Marcelle Taylor Dougan.

Dr. Marcelle Taylor Dougan is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Recreation at San Jose State.