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I would like to preface this article with saying that I have formally done equity and inclusion work for UMKC College Democrats and Sunrise Movement Kansas City, as well as informally for College Democrats of Missouri. This work has taught me a lot about what restorative justice is and the importance of it, but I continue to learn every day from other leaders in this movement pushing for a more equitable, inclusive and just future.

You may be wondering, “What is restorative justice?” or, “How do spaces or organizations that have caused harm repair harm and promote healing?” To answer the latter question, we must first define what restorative justice is. According to Justice & Reconciliation, restorative justice “is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by” harmful behavior. (I adapted this definition slightly so that it would make more sense in this context.)

What does restorative justice look like? I know this diagram from YWCA Utah has a different context, but I think we can take a lot away from it. So there are three main groups: the person(s) who cause/s/d harm, the person(s) who directly experienced that harm and the broader group who was also harmed as a result. The main themes are cooperation, therapy (or reflection), support services, training/education and repair.

This isn’t necessarily an easy or short process, but when it comes to oppressive structures and harm, there will be a push for the process to be swept under the rug, to be rushed, to be skipped, etc. There needs to be a dedication to the process, both in terms of effort and time. According to Justice & Reconciliation, restorative justice is meant to be a meaningful process that calls for the “inclusion of all parties,” “encountering the other side,” “making amends for the harm” and “reintegration of the parties into their communities.”

But often within spaces and organizations, there is an element of -isms (or power imbalance) that don’t get accounted for, which makes the process more painful and difficult. When the harm is produced by the person(s)/space/organization that benefits from a power imbalance in the relationship, more of the onus needs to be placed on the person(s)/space/organization that caused the harm versus the person(s) affected directly and indirectly by the harm.

With power imbalances in mind, I would like to reflect on Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race:

  • “Listen: if someone is telling you something about yourself and your actions and you feel your hackles raising, take that as a sign that you need to stop and listen.”
  • “Set your intentions aside: your intentions have little to no impact on the way in which your actions may have harmed others.”
  • “Try to hear the impact of what you have done.”
  • “Remember that you do not have all of the pieces: you will never fully understand the impact that sustained, systemic” -isms have on this group of marginalized people.
  • “Nobody owes you a debate: understand that when you ask to ‘talk it out’ you are asking for more emotional labor from somebody who is already hurt.”
  • “Nobody owes you a relationship: even if you’ve recognized where you’ve been racist, worked to make amends and learned from your mistakes.”
  • “Remember that you are not the only one hurt.”
  • “If you can see where your actions have caused harm, apologize and mean it.”
  • “If, after a lot of careful thought, you still do not see your actions as [harmful] and feel strongly that this is simply a misunderstanding, do not then invalidate that person’s hurt.”

I also really appreciate the three R’s utilized in this article:

  • Reckoning
  • Reparations
  • Rebirth

So how do spaces or organizations that have caused harm repair harm and promote healing? There isn’t a straightforward answer to this. This is something that needs to be determined by everyone involved, but the things mentioned in this thread are worth using in the process. There needs to be cooperation (in terms of coming together to talk), some sort of therapy or reflection, support services as well as training/education made available and, most importantly, an actual repair of harm for healing to happen.

Sometimes this is an ugly process that calls for removing the person(s) (temporarily or permanently) who have caused harm, a breakdown of the space/organization to rebuild better, etc. I personally feel like one of the best outcomes for repairing harm and promoting healing is when the person(s) affected feel welcomed back into the space/organization, that they’ve been taken seriously and heard and that there won’t be any repeats of the harm.

Mahreen is currently a senior studying Political Science, International Relations and Pre Law. In her free time she enjoys reading books about politics and watching foreign films. She is passionate about helping people, social justice and self care.
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