The hell you say. I won't stand for it." Banging the table with his fist, the Black store owner shouted, "You're not gonna get off that easy!" The teenaged American-Indian shoplifter cowered in silence. She worked hard to keep her lips from trembling, and her stare fixed on an old picture hanging on the wall. With a churning stomach, the White mediator worried that the entire mediation had been torpedoed by the store owner's angry outburst. The mediator tried to think of a way to end the session with some semblance of civility. Frustrated, the store owner looked with disgust at the other two participants at the table. He wanted and expected a response, but the other two individuals sat motionless. The store owner asked himself, "How can justice ever come out of this situation?"1
This document examines concerns practitioners of restorative justice must keep in mind when working with people from different cultures. Efforts to address these concerns must deal with challenges full of potential dangers and pitfalls. People from different cultures have different ways of speaking and behaving. In addition, a person's cultural milieu determines his or her world view, perception of justice, and communication style (Myers and Filner, 1993). These differences make the world interesting, but they can also cause difficulties. Even when all parties come to the table with the best intentions, natural cultural differences among cross-cultural parties can easily lead to misunderstanding, destroy the best efforts at conflict resolution, and end the hopes of restoring and repairing relationships.
The following section provides a brief overview of the restorative justice concept and a cursory glance at some programs that attempt to apply restorative justice principles. Discussions of program models that apply restorative justice principles are then presented. Next, the pitfalls and dangers that may hamper restorative justice efforts within cross-cultural contexts are identified. Finally, ways to increase positive interactions when working with persons from different cultural backgrounds are presented. Practitioners who attempt to adapt restorative justice principles to their work must be sensitive to cross-cultural differences and encourage those with whom they work to be sensitive as well.
1 This scenario is fictional and intended to be illustrative. Many terms are used in the United States to refer to various ethnic groups. Throughout this document, major ethnic groups are referred to as White, Black, American Indian, Latino, and Asian despite that individuals might prefer other terms.