EQUITY VS EQUALITY: WHY WE NEED ONE BEFORE WE CAN HAVE THE OTHER
FEATURE: reporter Abigail Gallen explains the differences between equity and equality and gives her opinion on what we need to achieve it
February 26, 2021
You’re short. Always have been, always will be. You’re one of those people who needs a stepping stool in order to reach the bowls on the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet. You get pushed to the front in group photos because if you’re not, the visibility of your physical self in said photograph is compromised.
That stepping stool, or being pushed to the front, is equity. You need something in order to have the same things as other people. You need a stepping stool to reach a bowl. Your friend who is three inches taller doesn’t, but with that stepping stool, you both get to have a bowl.
Later, when you’re both sitting down at the kitchen counter enjoying a bowl of cereal, you are equal. You have achieved equality.
In retrospect, this is not a difficult concept — and yet, we as a society have trouble fulfilling the needs of other people. We preach equality. Some of us even think we already have it, and other people secretly do not want it. But the truth of the matter is, we are not equal, and we will not be until we understand that equity is the ultimate stepping stone to equality.
This idea answers a lot of questions that a lot of Americans have. Why do we need Black History Month, or the Black Lives Matter movement? Why do we need feminism? Why do people march and protest when a situation feels unjust? Why do we need to raise the minimum wage?
Why does the government (when it chooses to) spend time and tax-payers’ hard-earned dollars on bills and laws and programs for immigrants? Refugees? This specific race, or another?
Aren’t we all fine?
Of course everything would seem fine to someone who is equal to others within their own majority — in the United States, that being predominantly White, cisgendered, male people of a reasonable or adequate amount of wealth. For them, everything is fine.
This country was founded and has been run and controlled by this majority group. Everything that has been created by them, was created for them. It get’s complicated when we realize that there are other people here, too. Women. Black people. Asian people. Gay people. Jewish and Muslim people. Poor people. Disabled people.
And for reasons not entirely irrelevant to this essay, there is bias and predjudice and hatred that keeps minority groups separated and, ultimately, unequal. That is why certain people do what they do. They run for congress, or president, or they become activists or leaders in some way, shape, or form. What they’re asking for is equality, but what they’re doing right now is considered equity.
Take the Black Lives Matter movement, for example. The whole reason why this movement began was because Black men were being disproportionately killed by cops, compared to White men. Now, the movement is larger and tackles all areas of national racism, but when it started, it was because children were losing their fathers, mothers their sons, and wives their husbands, and they were always Black. There was a need for action to be taken, so that this would stop happening.
If White men were being excessively killed by American police officers, then there would probably be a movement. Right? There would be legislation and action taken to prevent police from enacting unnecessary violence. But White men do not need a movement, because they are not being excessively killed by American police officers. Black men are.
What this movement is, is a stepping stone. It is a form of equity: something that the Black communities of America need in order to be equal with White people; specifically, to not be murdered more by local law enforcement. Once statistics show that police officers don’t kill Black people more than they kill White people, the movement will have found equality in that area. And, preferably, police wouldn’t be killing anybody at all.
You can apply this concept to other forms of racism, as well. Recently, there has been a call for more school-implemented education about Black history. No one has really been terribly adamant about asking for more White history, because all of us already know it. White history is what we’re taught in schools. And while this is a generalization, and peoples’ experiences can vary, most American kids only know the surface level of American slavery, and that’s where their knowledge and appreciation of the history of Black people ends. You’ll notice that, at least in the United States, a lot of people refer to Black people as “African American.” This term is perfectly fine — for African Americans. But Black people have heritage lines in different places all over the world, just like White people (i.e, German, Irish, Italian).
White kids don’t struggle with not having their race’s history taught in class, nor do they struggle with ignorance-based assumptions from their peers. But Black kids do! And so that’s why we take the certain steps we do: we celebrate Black History Month, we advocate for more of an inclusive history education. When, finally, no race is being left out of our history classes and general knowledge turns from White knowledge to everyone-knowledge, we will have reached historical educational equality.
Truth be told, the list goes on forever. Ramps for people in wheelchairs, so that they can get to the same place as someone who’s not in a wheelchair; raising the minimum wage so that those living in poverty maybe don’t have to live in poverty anymore, and can afford the things they need and want like the upper and middle class; making rape and sexual assault illegal so that the main victims of these crimes (women) can acquire justice.
If you’re confused why people “complain” or march or protest, it is because they need something, in order to feel as safe as you do. As accepted as you do.
What do we do when we need something? When we need, say, a glass of water? We get up, and we go get it. It’s as simple as that.