Equality or Equity: Which Is Better?

Equality or Equity: Which Is Better? The concepts aren’t the same and don’t bring Black people the same result.

by Hiram Jackson

Black people, as well as whites, have struggled for years with dual concepts requiring vastly different approaches for social justice: equality and equity. 

I recently heard a heralded, long-time activist admit that while we’ve fought fiercely for equality — believing it would right the wrongs of racism and discrimination in one fell swoop — the thinking was that equity would be a natural outcome of the battle. He went on to say that a two-pronged approach would have been more effective in achieving the goals of social justice and economic equity.

The truth is equality and equity are not the same, and in practice, they are not even that close. 

Equality means each individual or group receives the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person or group has different circumstances and allocates the resources and opportunities accordingly, so everyone reaches an equal outcome. 

As Paula Dressel of the Race Matters Institute put it, “The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”  

For example, in a country where all children of school age are eligible to attend schools of their choosing and Black workers can apply for the same jobs as whites, and get them, white families are more than eight times better off than Black families. 

So economic equity is a tangible concept in which resources and assets are distributed to balance economies. When that happens, all a society’s participants get a fair share of the wealth, and no one person or group is burdened any more than another. That is obviously not the case in America.

Families of color and minority-owned businesses, which have always been at the back of the finance and lending line, have suffered for many decades to survive.

People of color have traditionally been locked out of the economic process. Their efforts to participate in the economic process are still regularly thwarted, prohibiting them from getting a fair share of household and commercial wealth.

Families of color and minority-owned businesses, which have always been at the back of the finance and lending line, have suffered for many decades to survive. The pandemic not only helped to exacerbate their struggle for equity, but it also put a spotlight on the inconsistencies in the distribution of assistance to balance out these financial hardships and showed that Black people and Black businesses suffer disproportionately.

The disparities of homeownership within our community are still staggering. Closing the Black-white homeownership gap is an essential gauge of whether we are on course to be a fair, just society with equal access to everyone.

According to James Lowry, a prominent economic expert and 40-year advocate of minority business development, community development finance vehicles are few and far between. Many of those that are viable are not owned or controlled by Black people, so there are already inherent problems to access and financial accountability. Nothing new, right?

But the good news — and the shocker for some — is that Black-owned businesses have had the strongest rebound since the pandemic plunge. The pandemic created an impetus for people of color to start and reimagine business scenarios. Their objective was to offset shrinking employment opportunities through self-employment and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The bottom line: fair treatment of everyone, every community, and every enterprise according to circumstances is the route to achieving equity.

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