Guest Essay: Kenedi Newport
Equity vs Equality
Many people believe that equity and equality are the same thing or that the words are synonymous, but that’s not true. They both have different meanings with vastly different outcomes. Equality is about providing the same resource for everyone. Equity is about leveling the playing field. It’s more beneficial in situations where equality maintains the status quo.
Equality occurs when everyone receives the same amount of help. It gives everyone access to the same resources without taking the whole person, their experiences and their resources into account. An example of equality is the right to vote. In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote. They then had the same rights as a White man with regards to voting. They were granted the equality they sought out, however, that did not solve their problem.
Equity occurs when everyone receives different levels of help based on their needs. An example of equity is Black people being able to vote without being abused by the KKK and Jim Crow laws. These often included literacy tests and a poll tax. Although Black people still had the right to vote, they were forced to perform extra tasks beyond their capability. This reduced their ability to vote and ultimately have their voices heard. In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed which banned efforts to stop Black people from voting. In other words, almost a century after receiving the right to vote Black men (and women as of 1920) were legally granted the right to vote, equitably.
Equity is important because Black people are at a disadvantage due to centuries of oppression. This means they would require more help than people who have benefited from social privilege would require. Some people would believe that equity is a handout and provides a way for poor people to underachieve. It’s not. Equity actually provides resources that will teach people how to access the opportunities available to everyone and what to do once they have the opportunity.
This avoids the issues discussed in a recent post about moving low-income families into neighborhoods with better resources. The new residents may have more difficulty adjusting to the people, the culture and the lessons within their new community. Add to that, they may not have the resources to take advantage of the opportunities they now have access to. This could result in them not having the same chances of success as someone who may have lived there for their whole life.
How does this help close the wealth and education gaps?
Equity helps close the education and wealth gaps by leveling the playing field. When everyone has the same exact opportunities, the onus is on them to make the most of it. It’s one thing to cause your own failures, it’s another when you play by the rules but there are rules and unattended historical disadvantages working against you. Individuals may be able to get around it but people as a whole will not have that ability. As we speak, both the racial income and education gaps continue to grow larger.
For example, equality was giving everyone the right to a free public education. Inequality was setting the stage for unequal education. Students with inferior education have greater difficulty obtaining secondary education and building wealth.
This is the same with the wealth gap. Again there is equality because poor people still have the opportunities to get jobs. The jobs often match the skill and education they were able to obtain, which usually aren’t high level. Very often, climbing the ladder in a place of employment, doesn’t take you as far as a degree would. The income is limited and the wealth gap increases due to lack of resources. Those resources are mainly the funds to provide further education. People who have limited incomes struggle to build wealth.
As you can see, equality does nothing because besides give people the same thing so no one feels left out. In reality many people aren’t left out because they have never been a part of the available opportunities to begin with. At best they can try to play catch up, but the rates at which the wealth and educational gaps grow, there will be more poor people than middle class people before a real discussion about equity begins.