Updated: May 6, 2021
How can restorative justice bring about racial justice? Some wisdom from Fania Davis’, The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and U.S. Social Transformation, says “Challenge yourself to be a healer and activist for justice. Don't feel you have to choose one or the other. Be both. See activism as a form of social healing and interpersonal healing as a form of social justice. Transform and heal yourself as you transform and heal the world.” We breed more of what we focus on. Here we are choosing to advocate for more personal reflection and courage to change. The purpose of this post is to clarify key terms used in talking about race, as well as to call in a more unified and active role in being anti-racist.
First, this post is written from a Latina-American perspective. Why is it important to mention this? Because we must acknowledge how our identities play a part in the way the world sees and accepts us. Myself, along with anyone else, that is “white passing,” does not experience the wrath of racism in its deepest, most painful forms. A white identity does not mean that life is free from challenges, it means that any challenges a “white passing” person encounters are not related to the color of their skin; this is privilege (whether we like, or are aware of, it or not). We owe it to ourselves and to each other to recognize how being “color blind” perpetuates unconscious superiority complexes while also ignoring white privilege. White privilege refers to inherent advantages people with white identities get, when living in a society that is racially discriminatory. Working from a restorative perspective we use affective language and statements when talking about diversity; knowing this is more useful than ignoring our truths.
Second, white privilege is not the same thing as white supremacy. White supremacy refers to the hateful ideas, actions, and beliefs that want to boast a white identity at the detriment of everyone else. White supremacy also refers to the way systems and social institutions were built to ensure white people have more power and resources than people of color. Just because someone benefits from white privilege does not make them a white supremacist. However, white guilt or shame can sprout when an individual is trying to take personal accountability for the actions of their collective race. These feelings are detrimental because they risk paralyzing a person from being able to fully contribute and commit to working towards dismantling injustices on a broader scale. Working restoratively, we understand that “racial courage” is better than shaming or refusal of our skin color differences. Having racial courage means we are owning who we are, understanding no color is bad or good. Only individual people’s actions can be bad or good. In having these conversations, restorative justice seeks to replace communication barriers with constructive, open dialogues.
Third, even if your conscious attitudes and intentions don’t support racism and you consider yourself to be “non-racist,” this is still a passive approach. Good intentions are not enough. Even though being non-racist might mean well, it is not doing enough (if anything) to address the very real and pervasive racist culture that does exist in our communities, governments, and international systems. Instead, let's move towards being actively anti-racist. This means opposing racist behavior and institutionalized norms, addressing our own implicit biases, and calling on a total reconstruction of racist policies and governments. A restorative approach to take in being anti-racist would be to consider the many circles we are a part of and how we can be better, more inclusive, community members. In order for systemic harms to stop reoccurring, accountability needs to be reconceptualized. At an individually restorative level this could look like not letting small micro-aggressions slip through the cracks of your social circles any longer. On a larger restorative scale, this could mean doing advocacy work for changing policies focused on disadvantaged populations.
We cannot wait for transformation to happen around us. We must do what we can to be transformative and take matters into our own hands. This work requires an infinite unraveling of dedication, learning, and openness. RP is not about trying to virtue signal how “woke” you are to other people, it is about using our individual voices to influence change from harmful status quo's. It is up to us to choose how we view the world: community or chaos. In restorative practice, we learn to speak to each other’s values, this allows us to speak from the heart and be open to ever changing differences. Working restoratively means working collaboratively. We must allow each other the space to make mistakes and correct them. If someone says something racist, does this inadvertently make that person a racist forever? Or do they have the chance to correct themselves and to take accountability for their misjudgments or actions?
Cover Art & post by: Melissa Peña
2020-2021 MSW Intern