TRANSFORMING WHITENESS: OUR APPROACH
INTEGRATING RESTORATIVE AND RACIAL JUSTICE
Restorative Justice is the umbrella term for a set of principles and practices aimed at changing our perspective and response to crime and various forms of harm. Through restorative justice processes, all stakeholders involved in an act of harm are invited to come together to explore what happened, how people have been impacted, and what is needed to move forward and repair relationships. In addition to addressing harm that occurs at the interpersonal or community levels, restorative justice also offers ways to address harms or crimes that have occurred on a grand scale and over extended periods of time, such as state-sponsored violence or structural racism. Such efforts require the cooperation of people and institutions, and a long-term commitment to repairing harm and building peace together. A central part of restorative justice involves creating greater awareness and wholeness in those who have caused or been bystanders to harm so that they can actively participate in such a repair process. This is how we see our work with white people.
Many mainstream approaches to anti-racism work with white people in our society involve responding to harm without looking deeply to understand why the harm was happening in the first place. This gap in understanding can result in even greater harm. When faced with the realities of racism in our history, our society, and in ourselves, many white people retreat into a fog of denial, justification and avoidance. Through this defensiveness, white people often minimize or refuse to accept the experiences of people of color, magnifying harm.
We integrate restorative justice with anti-racism work by acknowledging and addressing the fact that these responses are based in shame and existential fears. When processed within an accepting community, can loosen their hold, freeing people to acknowledge uncomfortable truths. We direct participants to the “inner work” of racial justice education -- looking within to understand how our own beliefs and behaviors are shaped by systemic racism and how that continually impacts us in our relationships and our activism. Using restorative justice principles, we create a container free of blame, one that we do not see as "soft" but rather essential in building our capacity to be engaged learners with genuine accountability.
The philosophy of restorative justice also leads us to examine the root causes of racism in society -- those that created it and that make it persist to divide masses of people, keeping them from working together to build an equitable society for all. After seeing that it is not natural or inherent, we seek to connect with our humanity outside of this system and imagine pathways toward our collective liberation.
In the long term, our restorative approach invites white people to build the emotional strength and self-understanding needed for compassionate, authentic relationships and effective participation in truth and reconciliation processes and multi-racial movements for transformative change.
WHY WHITE AFFINITY SPACE
We believe that, as members of a dominant group in our nation, white people have unique experiences of socialization that need to be unlearned if we are to become conscious and grounded enough to work in solidarity with people of color within efforts for racial justice. Some of this can be done with people of color. However, centering the educational and emotional needs of white people alongside those who are the direct targets of racism can marginalize the needs of people of color and create further pain through exposure to whites who are only beginning to be able to comprehend and acknowledge their lived realities.
White affinity groups also allow us, as a community, to reclaim meaningful parts of our ancestors’ identities that were lost with their assimilation to whiteness, and reconnect to aspects of their humanity that were degraded during their complicity in racial violence. Ideally, in these spaces, we can explore renewed, positive personal and cultural identities that can form the foundations of meaningful, anti-racist lives.
We believe that work with groups of white people should precede or supplement, not take the place of, multi-racial dialogues and activism. They can deepen these experiences and strengthen our ability to create powerful coalitions.