Since the push for racial justice was re-ignited after the killings of Breonna Taylor & George Floyd earlier this year, the words Diversity & Inclusion have been at the forefront of many people’s minds. But these ideas have been in the lexicon since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. And despite the efforts of many organizers, advocates, and teachers, we STILL don’t have equality, which makes me think that D&I might not be the answer. It’s time to look beyond “Diversity & Inclusion” to Restorative Justice.
If you ask 100 different Restorative Justice practitioners to define the work, you’ll get at least 100 different answers. Howard Zehr of Eastern Mennonite University is widely credited for popularizing the term. In his book Changing Lenses, he defined Restorative Justice as:
“…a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offence and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”
As I've continued to learn and practice I’ve come to define the work more holistically as:
“a philosophy and set of practices, rooted in Indigenous teachings, that emphasize our interconnection by repairing relationships when harm occurs while proactively building and maintaining relationships to prevent future harm.”
At it’s best most D&I trainings raise awareness of systemic problems & addresses individual harmful behaviors. Discriminatory policies & micro-aggressions need to be addressed, but bringing people from “diverse” backgrounds and “including” them into existing structures doesn’t get to the root of the problem. At Amplify RJ we know the root of the problem is broken or non-existent relations, we’re disconnected from others and often ourselves and it makes it almost impossible to build healthy and authentic relationships in the workplace or repair them when there’s is harm. This is largely due to white supremacy culture.
Before you go running, let me tell you what I mean by white supremacy culture. This is not about demonizing white people, although white people often benefit and it’s not simply about using racial slurs and marching with the clan.
According to dismantlingracism.org, “White supremacy culture is an artificial, historically constructed culture which expresses and justifies the idea that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.”
The idea that white is "normal," "better," "smarter," "holy" is reproduced by all the institutions of our society. In particular the media, the education system, western science and the Christian church. White supremacy is not the shark in the water, but its the water in which we swim. People who embody different identities are affected differently, but everyone is harmed.
Tema Okun and the late Daniel Jones describe characteristics of white supremacy as: Only one right way, Objectivity, Either or thinking, Worship of the written word, Perfectionism, Progress is bigger/more, Quantity over quality, Sense of urgency, Fear of open conflict, Right to comfort, Defensiveness, Power hoarding, Individualism, I’m the only one, & Paternalism
After reading that list, I’m sure you recognize some of the ways you’ve both upheld and been harmed by white supremacy culture. So what do we do? This isn’t the fault of any one individual. These characteristics have been upheld in institutions for centuries and harm everyone. But individuals can make the changes to build a more equitable world.
Restorative Justice philosophy, practices, and values not only offer us a way to repair harm in relationships, but also help us build and maintain relationships rooted in equity. If you want to take your work around building equitable relationships in your organization beyond “Diversity & Inclusion”, CLICK HERE!