Taking off the blindfold

Thanks to Lisa Marie for this photo of my presentation at Pact Camp.


In the article, Adopted children find comfort, culture at camp, this excerpt stood out:

It was at a special kind of summer camp where Noelle
Capone opened up about being ridiculed at school for being Asian and adopted…On Wednesday morning, Noelle’s mother, Deb Capone, who adopted her
daughter as an infant from China, recalled hearing Noelle’s painful
"I was shocked," Capone, 50, said. "I wanted to believe the fantasy that if I loved her enough, everything would be OK."

One of the things I did while at Pact Camp last week was to facilitate a parent-teen discussion group. I remember being a teen myself and how mortified I’d have been to have to share my deepest thoughts with my parents, and in front of my friends no less. So, I decided to use the Talking Circle format because I thought it would have resulted in the most open-ness from the teens, and I had this idea that I’d put everyone in two groups so that teens and parents were separate from each other. The point, in my mind, was to create a more non-threatening environment, especially for the kids.

Two questions into the circles, it wasn’t working. The teens kept craning their necks, trying to hear what their parents were saying in the other group and vice versa. Finally one of the groups suggested that we combine everyone into one group since the kids were interested in what their parents were saying anyway.

So that’s what we did. I was concerned that combining was going to make some kids clam up and in fact, one teen did. I also thought it would be boring for everyone since there were over 20 participants (most talking circles are limited to 8-10 people). But part of the sacred tradition of the Talking Circle is that there is no pressure to talk. One can hold the talking piece and think about the question, they can pass it on, they can talk. And it’s all respected.

After a few basic questions, like "Why did you come to Pact Camp?" (to which most of the teens responded, "My parents forced me"), I asked the question, "How has race affected you?"

The parents for the most part gave intellectualized answers, most of them acknowledging in some way that because of their Whiteness, they had experienced privileges that were unearned and which they had benefited from a la Peggy McIntosh. But what really blew me away was the honesty and integrity of the teens.

They shared some pretty awful stories of being targeted because of their race – in stores, in school, in the community. I think many of the parents were really shocked at the level of awareness this group of 13-15 year olds expressed. And the coping mechanisms that teens had to employ in order to survive.

I was really impressed with this group of young people. And I think (and hope) the parents got a lot out of it.  John Raible, who helped me co-facilitate this with me, commented that he wished we’d taped the session and shown it to all the parents who attended Pact Camp, because in discussion groups, some of the parents of the younger kids were saying things along the lines of "my kid doesn’t notice racism" or "my kid has never talked about being the victim of racism" or "I don’t think my kids will experience racism."

I think a lot of people are tied to that belief – that racism doesn’t exist any more. But, one of the 13-year olds talked about how a class mate told him this "joke": "What does an apple and a Black person have in common? They both look good hanging in a tree." This teen talked about how angry he was, and that his instinct was to beat down this kid, but as a Black kid HE would have been targeted by the school for fighting. He talked about how he went to his teacher, who told him "that isn’t racism." The other teens in the group nodded their heads; yes, they’d experienced those kinds of things too.

If anything I think the teens got one thing out of this exercise – that the others had experienced the same kinds of issues being targeted at school and in the communities because of their race. And the parents – well, if any of them had had blindfolds on, it was clear after this Talking Circle that they saw how their kids are affected by race and racism with clearer vision.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

5 thoughts

  1. Ugh, I hate that idea that “that isn’t racism.” I’ve seen racism and ignorance, and I think most of the comments that come out of teens mouths are the former, not the latter.
    The talking circle works well. I remember in the first KAAN at DC there was a talking circle with teens and parents mixed (around 30) but I noticed that the majority of the parents were moving the conversation FOR their teens.
    Sometimes, it’s better to separate them and let the teens just vent and experience some raw emotion.
    I too was surprised at the frankness of the teens in the article about teenagers and racism. Keep working on making our teens better able to verbalize their feelings.

  2. I have a logistical question and can’t find the answer on the PACT website… what age range is PACT camp intended for?
    Thanks for your insightful and inspiring posts about it!

  3. The Pact camp teen-parent communication circle was a powerful experience. Thank you for facilitating! I also want to recommend the book Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide to Achieving Equity in School. Another adoptive parent recommended that I read it and every time I saw the word “teacher” substitute the word “parent”. We need to have courageous conversations in our families, our schools and our communities. Thank you for engaging and facilitating courageous conversations about adoption and race at Pact Camp!

  4. Pact Camp is something that should be modeled all over the country. Families have so much to learn, and it sounds like the environment at Pact Camp is exactly the kind that facilitates that.
    I know you were terrific – the attendees were fortunate to have you facilitating that session.

  5. Your blog is important to me!
    I just wanted to mention the “fish bowl” technique…It might be very interesting in such a situation. Basically each group would carry on as usual, but in a “fish bowl”, with the other group witnessing. Then there can be time to put both groups together.
    It’s a nice technique.
    You sound like an amazing facilatator…able to go with the flow of what your group needs!

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s