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What can Restorative Practices teach us about creating a racially just culture?


Restorative practices (RP) is “a social science that studies how to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision making” (IIRP). It offers insights and tools for achieving a racially just society. Our organization offers restorative practices training for those who want to more deeply understand how to be restorative and make restorative practices a way of doing business in any setting!


For a basic understanding, we recommend reading all of “Defining Restorative” by Ted Wachtel, Founder of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), which summarizes key RP concepts. Here we want to highlight  several relevant concepts for understanding how to advance an anti-racist agenda. 


  • “Restorative Justice” involves bringing together people who were harmed (“victims”), who caused harm (“offenders”) and “communities of care” (family members, friends, teachers, etc.) for both sides. There are multiple approaches to achieving restorative justice. To varying degrees, all of the approaches seek to provide a space for people to understand how others were affected by a harm.and then asks people to take responsibility for their actions, reach reconciliation and provide reparations. Restorative practices offer effective, evidence-based ways to create successful restorative conversations and create just outcomes for all parties. 


  • The “Social Discipline Window” offers a place to start when thinking about how to transform policing, social services, and the criminal justice system so that interactions result in true justice, leave everyone feeling whole, and restore relationships. Shifting our current systems from authoritarian to restorative is fundamental to being anti-racist. The Social Discipline Window (a window-shaped illustration about different ways of treating others) shows that being restorative means creating clear social expectations and also being very nurturing when correcting or trying to influence other people’s behavior. Being restorative is doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. 


  • Fair process is essential for working together to create the change we seek. This includes  creating policies that ensure fair, democratic processes are a regular part of public engagement. According to Kim & Mauborgne (2003), “…individuals are most likely to trust and cooperate freely with systems — whether they themselves win or lose by those systems — when fair process is observed.” The three principles of fair process are including people in decisions that affect them (engagement), explaining the reasoning behind decisions (explanation) and ensuring that people understand what a given decision is and what people are expected to do (expectation clarity). 


  • The “Compass of Shame” identifies four ways that people typically react when their positive emotions are interrupted. People tend to withdraw/isolate, attack oneself (physical or verbal self-harm), attack others (physical or verbal harm against and/or blaming others) and avoid uncomfortable situations (denial, thrill-seeking, substance abuse). It is important for White people to recognize when they are reacting in one of these ways when confronted with their own racism, for instance after recognizing that they have racist thoughts or after being called out as having said or done something racist. These reactions are unproductive and get in the way of doing the internal work needed to be an ally.


Building our community’s muscle for effectively using restorative practices empowers people to create meaningful and lasting outcomes for social, economic and environmental justice.

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