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Why Become a Mediator if you're Black, Asian or Latino?

Patti Bertschler - February 15, 2011 11:52 AM

This is a hot topic whether you know it or not.

In preparing for our upcoming mediation training, it occurred to me that over the years, we do the usual marketing to invite folks to attend our classes:  media releases, web postings throughout the state, on-line access to registration forms, listings on various continuing education boards to name some.

The end result is that the majority of people whom we train are Caucasian, even though all our marketing initiatives are aimed at the general population which includes people of color.  Not that we’re complaining.  We would just welcome more minority representation in our classes.

So I did some research and called several mediator colleagues who work throughout Cuyahoga County and the State.  Their honest conversations with me led me to draw two big conclusions. 

Before I tell you what they are, see if you can discover the themes for yourself.

While several (Butler, 2000, Llapur,2003, Weatherspoon, 2009) write about under-representation of minority mediators, the majority of people in mediation training across the country remain Caucasian. 

Cultural competence (understanding the inner culture) and process expertise (learning to effectively conduct a mediation) are elements to be considered (Fred D. Butler, “When Should Race, Gender or Culture be a Factor When Considering the Mediator?”, 2000). If an architectural firm requires a mediator with knowledge of architecture or realtors require a mediator with real estate knowledge, then it may follow that “the chances of reaching resolution are greater…(when hiring) mediators who understand culture, race or gender nuances” (of the client), writes Butler.

Similarly, Rene Llapur asserts, “The elements that the mediator must consider in order to be successful are the mediator’s individuality amidst the Latino cultural diversity, his/her role under Latino clients, the mediator’s involvement in the conflict, Latino family dynamics, formality and informality in dealing with Latinos.”  (Llapur, “A Mediator’s Cross Cultural Dynamics Involving Latinos,” 2003).

Local attorney and mediator, Santiago Feliciano, Jr. adds, “You can’t just dig into mediation with Hispanic clients.  You need to get to know them, ask about their families and earn their trust first.  Then the business can begin.” (Bertschler and Bertschler, Elder Mediation:A New Solution to Age-Old Problems, 2009).

Based on my research and across the cultures, the opinions remain similar.  In the Asian community, for example, “We are not raised in a culture of competition,” says Cleveland attorney Manu Raj.  “Our culture is not hard-wired toward the litigation world.  Asians are more peacemaking in their upbringing and therefore more open to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)…The problem is, the Asian community does not have a good idea of what mediation is.”

Martina Moore, a mediator and clinical counselor in Euclid, Ohio, agrees. “The African American community historically resolves disputes with physical violence, avoidance of the conflict, or through the judicial system..  No one has told us that we can resolve conflict civilly. And although there are Black mediators throughout Ohio and the country who are working toward this end, it’s a very slow educational process.” 

Have you drawn the same conclusions as I?  One is that people of a race or culture may respond more favorably to someone who looks like them and “gets” their issues.  A second is that across the board, people of all races are unfamiliar with mediation as an alternative approach to conflict resolution.

Raj suggests that “mediation is almost always a smarter way to address family conflicts.  There are specific problems that immigrants have in assimilating with some Western litigation concepts, and many have a limited  understanding of the ADR process.  We need greater outreach to our culture.  A mediator can reach out to the Cleveland Federation of Community Association or to religious leaders who hold a high degree of influence among their communities.”   Each culture has its own local organizations and influential leadership that maybe open to a conversation about mediation and other ADR approaches.

Opportunities for people of color to receive process learning (becoming a mediator) coupled with firsthand experience of a culture makes it the right time to consider a career in mediation and conflict resolution.  

Patti Bertschler is a clinical counselor, mediator, author, trainer and co-owner of Northcoast Conflict Solution in Seven Hills, Ohio. She is co-author of TRUCE! Using Elder Mediation to Resolve Conflictamong Families, Seniors and Organizations (©2004) and Elder Mediation:  A New Solution to Age-Old Problems (© 2009).  Her booklet 88 Tips for Shy Introverts: Becoming Personally and Professionally Assertive was published in 2010.  Patti can be reached via website, or by calling (216-236-6200).

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