Equality vs. Equity
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Photo and Art Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
I originally posted this blog on October 25th of 2020. At the time, it wasn't accompanied by audio. I got feedback a while back to make my website more accessible, so I'm slowly revisiting previous blogs to record audio and video, while still providing new posts. Please work with me and thank you for your patience.
As Black and Brown movement workers and white anti-racists demand an emphasis on cultural and systemic shifts that point to more equitable terms for all, what we find is that changes begin to take place that are more equal but not necessarily more equitable.
Equality is a great start, but it is not enough. Shocking! I know.
Toronto-based anti-racist and anti-oppression (a.k.a, ARAO) professionals and strategy workers like LLana James, Crystal Perryman-Mark, Dionne Falconer, Doug Stewart, and Beth Jordan have all been foundational in my early understanding of the nuances between equality and equity. They each trained me in ARAO in the past and have shaped how I approach equity vs. equality.
I also did my Master's at the University of Toronto, specializing in sociology and equity studies in education, and have a Ph.D. in feminist and gender studies. I'm also an African Canadian who straddles multiple identities, some of which seemingly contradict. Like being a cash-poor student from a wealthier than most Ghanaian family with a lot of social and political power. Or neurodivergent and queer, but Catholic. You get the point, and if you don't, c'est la vie.
These are some of the contextual pieces that contribute to my framework. That equality can be achieved and still yield unjust environments that are not equitable.
A popular anti-racist analogy I was taught presents us with the imagery of a facilitator handing out an equal number of crayons to a group of people. They do this to show that you can share an equal amount with everyone, but that doesn't mean everyone is in the end, equal.
Here’s how it goes.
Say there is a group of five people in a room and you are a facilitator tasked with equally distributing crayons among them all. You give, “five equal crayons for everyone,” all in the name of, equality, of course. That seems fair, right? Equal, even.
No one can complain that you gave the other person more or less than them. All were given the same equal five crayons. “Justice has been served”, you say. “I stuck it to the patriarchy”, you think. “I’m killing it as a facilitator,” you tell yourself.
But have you really achieved the goal of equality between the five?
Spoiler Alert: you have not. In fact, you have likely just made matters much worse for some, while exponentially better for others.
Those who only had one crayon to begin with are still only left with six crayons, while others who previously had ten crayons now have fifteen crayons. While your good intentions meant that you were equal in your distributions, equality here still yielded inequality and disparities.
Six crayons are not the same as fifteen crayons. Fifteen is greater than six. Six is less than fifteen. The two are not equal, though all were equally given five parts.
True equality would require that we ask each individual what their needs are in order to better assess what needs to be reallocated in order for the majority to be on more equal terms.
What you haven’t considered is how many crayons each of the five had to begin with. This leading question is crucial if we want to truly achieve equality for all. We have to ask how much each community or person, individual or culture had to begin with, and question how they came to get that number of crayons in the first place. Who did they get the initial crayons from? What shape were the crayons in when they got them? Were any crayons previously stolen? And by who? Or donated and on loan? Do they have to be returned to somebody? Is there interest? We have to ask a lot of questions, rather than make assumptions.
Most of all, we have to take a situated approach in asking each of the five what they need. Situated as in, specific. Case by case. Meaning, asking and consulting with them in order to know how many crayons they require to be on more equal terms with the rest. This is the process and difference with equity frameworks.
Equity is asking and doing what is needed to ensure that everyone has the same ten crayons, not focusing only on giving the same number of crayons.
This means that some will need nine new crayons, while others none, because they already had ten to begin with.
Equity will involve conversations of some of the following: restoration; restorative justice; transformative justice; truth and reconciliation; radical honesty; a love politic; accountability; decolonization; indigenizing; reparation; social justice; disability justice; worker's rights, worker's justice; migrant rights, migrant justice; universal health care; reproductive justice; free education; canceling student debt loans, prison abolition not just reform and defunding, an end to rape culture and white supremacy; and so much more.
Equity requires more in-depth investigation and uncovering uncomfortable information that may lead to further excavation of even messier dialogue. But if we say we want equality, then we have to first pass through equity. It is impossible to arrive at equality without making things equitable.
Without equity, there will and can never be true equality.
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Until next time, in solidarity.
Image Description: A sketch of two fish in a circle, made up of tribal designs, representing the astrological sign of Pisces.