Dr Leah Wing, a director of the Social Justice Mediation Institute *Photo supplied
Dr Leah Wing, a director of the Social Justice Mediation Institute *Photo supplied
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WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28: Two US experts in conflict resolution warned that taking race out of mediation talks can be counter-productive and disadvantage people who feel that race played a part in the dispute.

Leah Wing, who will hold a workshop on mediation at a major Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB) conference on Saturday, said: “Recent research has shown that there is a very strong pattern in the training of mediators that, when one party says race is an issue in the dispute and the other party does not.

“Mediators are trained in the concept of colour-blindness. In their desire to help, they’ve taken on one way someone feels about the problem and this privileges people who do not want to see race as a component.

“It may come from a caring place, but it privileges someone who does not want to discuss race and underprivileges someone who does.”

Dr Wing, a director of the Social Justice Mediation Institute, was speaking as CURB gears up for its first Racial Justice Conference, due to be held this weekend.

Dr Wing has taught conflict resolution for a decade. She teaches in the legal studies programme at University of Massachusetts/Amherst and uses critical race theory in mediation and reconciliation on colonized and post-colonial societies.

She and Dr Deepika Marya, associate professor of post-colonial theory and literature at the University of Southern Maine, who has trained people in dispute resolution since 1997, will run a workshop on mediation on Friday in advance of the conference.

Dr Wing stressed: “It’s not our place to tell Bermudians what they should be doing, but we want to share our experiences in the US, particularly around issues of race and ways the court system and ways outside the court system like mediation, can be used to stop violence in our communities and address not just community issues, but personal issues, which can also cause conflict.”

Dr Marya said: “We haven’t created a society where there is equity, so we have a blind system, we’re leaving it to chance and some people don’t feel they have the same shot at things.”

She added: “It’s not always a person of colour who wants to talk about these things. Other people can feel isolated or that people will make assumptions about them based on their colour.”

Empowerment

Dr Wing said that mediation should be about empowerment because people were trying to resolve disputes themselves, rather than resorting to formal court proceedings.

She added that often — because there was no legal basis for court action — mediation was the only route people could take to defuse tension, which could lead to an escalation into violence, including gang violence.

Dr Wing said: “When you have a society which is structured historically in a racist manner — and we are all living with the legacy of that —no matter how well-meaning you are, if you don’t address that, you have to ask ‘who is privileged by that?’ “

She added: “We do believe and hope that the lens we bring in looking at dispute resolution can cross national boundaries.

“We are asking people to ask questions about how their system of dispute resolution handles people who are marginalized or whose stories are marginalized.”

Origins

And Dr Wing said: “We need to look at the origins of conflict or trauma as well as at solutions.”

The theme of the CURB conference is “Bermuda’s Criminal Justice System: Intent and Impact”.

The keynote speaker will be Dr Michelle Alexander, a veteran civil rights advocate and litigator and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness which examined how the prison system has come to resemble the systems of racial control from another era.

Another pre-conference workshop on structural racism in the criminal justice system will also be held on Friday. Both of the Friday events will run between 9am and 5pm.

The main conference runs from 8.30am to 5pm, with participation from police, the prison service, lawyers and judges, as well as social agencies.

Registration is $195 for both days and $125 for one day, with reduced rates for charities of $150 for both days or $100 for one day. Students can register for $75.

• More information at www.uprootingracism.org and those who want to attend can also call CURB on 542-2872.