What’s up with this “equity” you keep hearing about?

I grew up steeped in the belief of equality. For a number of years I wore a round lapel pin that was all black except for an = symbol in white. It was a simple, powerful message, a product of the Urban League.

In recent months, maybe longer, I noticed the arrival of a new buzzword — equity. Politicians, activists, journalists are using it even more than “systemic racism.” They’re beating it like a war drum.

OK, a distinction without a difference, I thought. Equity, equality; tomato, tomahto, what’s the dif, I thought.

I thought wrong.

How many slices do YOU get? (Photo: Pizza Pie PNG)

Equality means equal treatment for everyone.

When I looked up “equity,” it was defined as fairness, which doesn’t mean equal at all. It is very different.

Example: There is a pizza with eight slices and eight friends sit down to share it. Each gets a slice.

That is equality, and equal treatment.

Now, suppose one of the friends had a huge breakfast, and another hadn’t eaten in two days. The friend who was starving would be given two slices, while the friend who was stuffed would get none.  That is equity, or “fair” treatment. Am I right about this?

I’m a words guy, of course, but I am just spitballing here, so I decided to poke around the internet to see if I was on to something.

It didn’t require much of a search.

The scholars at Winston-Salem State University confirmed my guesswork:

“The terms equality and equity are often used interchangeably; however, they differ in important ways. Equality is typically defined as treating everyone the same and giving everyone access to the same opportunities. 

“Meanwhile, equity refers to proportional representation (by race, class, gender, etc.) in those same opportunities. To achieve equity, policies and procedures may result in an unequal distribution of resources. For example, need-based financial aid reserves money specifically for low-income students. Although unequal, this is considered equitable because it is necessary to provide access to higher education for low-income students.”

There you go. Equality is race blind; equity is race conscious. (Not just race — also on the list might be income, gender, religion, nationality, shoe size.) Equity is almost a synonym for . . . Discrimination. If that sounds too pejorative, call it “making choices.”

So now the questions are — is equity “fair”? Is equity right?

The term “fair” is highly subjective, even more so than “right.” Is it “fair” in the classroom that certain students get a point added to their grade point average? Is it “fair” in business that certain people be charged smaller taxes? In sports, is it “fair” that games open with some teams having a score on the board?

Sociology was my minor in college — night school — and I remember one instructor, Irv Goldhaber, whose day job was at the city human rights commission. He was no Ivory Tower academic, he had experience in the Real World, always a blessing for students.

He explained certain preferences or accommodations for African-American students this way: If you had two contestants in a race, and one had been confined in a box for 400 years, and the other had been free to exercise, would it be a fair race?

Clearly, it would not be.

That made sense to me, but that was two generations ago, around 1963.

Is the Black runner still in that box? 

This could lead to a discussion of reparations, but I won’t let it because that deserves its own column.

This column draws the distinction between equality and equity and what those word choices mean. It alerts you that you will see programs and policies coming down the pike that are unequal, in an attempt to be “fair.”

But are they right?

That depends on how many pizza slices you get.

16 thoughts on “What’s up with this “equity” you keep hearing about?”

    Good job as always. When you were searching the internet, looking for feedback as it were, did you look towards the far left ? I would think that those two words were meant to be interchangeable. If that is so, then we are heading down the path to socialism.

  2. Stu, congrats on taking on a rich vein of tricky word use.

    Underlying this misleading ‘equivalence’ of two terms that have very different meaning lie two very contradictory intentions. Any reasonable person would agree that individuals should have an equal opportunity to achieve their goals in life, based on their own efforts. That’s quite different from the notion that there must be an equality of outcome – that everyone should end up in the same situation – the foundation that underlies the concept of equity.

    Equality recognizes that personal success should be merit-based. The underlying premise of social equity denies this.

    Back in the day when I was growing up in the US, I volunteered in a program called Head Start, which worked with disadvantaged inner city communities to help young people ‘catch up’ with their middle-class peers in areas like literacy and maths. The whole premise was, to apply your analogy, to provide some extra training for the runner who’s been in the box, so they could eventually run a competitive race.

    Head start did not presume individual success, it simply provided the tools that an ambitious and hard-working individual could use to succeed.

    It think the principles behind Head Start remain relevant today. Trying to grant equity of outcome cannot deliver sustainable success, just an illusion.

    1. Head Start was a great program! My mother and I volunteered for years.

      Whatever happened to Head Start? Are there other similar programs? I would vounteer again, given the chance!

  3. Tom Sowell, my favorite essayist and and social issues author, has always stressed equal opportunity does not guarantee equal outcomes. The equity position is that if the outcomes are not equal then something else is at play. Discrimination, “silver spoon” upraising, whiteness, connections, etc. are all to blame. Nevermind that many of our highest achievers had very humble beginnings and still managed to do well. I point you to Dr. Ben Carson as a shining example.

  4. Maybe it is a little partisan but I hate the abuse of words to cover an Agenda.
    DIVERSITY-inclusion of a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, different genders, sexual orientations.
    EQUITY-fair and impartial.
    INCLUSION-accept all groups into your workplace with a sense of belonging.
    If your purpose for such a study is to improve working conditions, and salary inequities then it has value in making a difference in the newspaper environment. But to conclude that the number of black reporters is insufficient is an internal decision of the owner of the paper. Outside studies like the DEI have value but should not cross the line by setting a fixed number of minority reporters needed, the content of their stories, and worse insert a penalty for those who fail to adhere to all the stipulations of the study. An example of the success of a similar study was performed at Google where they spent 265 million to increase its diversity numbers to no avail. An example of how the program can go wrong an employee of Google was fired for writing a memo against the diversity efforts.
    The Inquirer study on their DEI formed a numerical chart of the breakdown of individuals of color, gender, and an exam of their Journalists who wrote with a white outlook on stories in the black communities. The result coming from the study shows intimidation, control of story content, and proof of a set agenda.
    Statement from the study:
    (Of course, none of this will work without addressing workplace culture means all white journalists doing the work as well — ensuring that they work on their cultural competency and do not create additional uncompensated labor for colleagues of color. For any of this to work, DEI work must be incentivized so when someone publishes or does something problematic a penalty will be given to any writer who fails a DEI order.)
    And the Inquirer has hired a Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who will oversee the newsroom and community outreach.
    The only newspaper in our city now has made the phrase “Free Press” contingent on a multi-step process to ensure the story has been sanitized for release to the public with the stamp of exclusion of independent thought. Welcome to more slanted coverage of police and accolades for city officials by those who seek to control not only -what is written but also how it is written.

  5. Great column, Stu. And it deals with yet another leftist attack on the English language. I remember riding into work with a double-masters friend from Amherst, who could not find his ass with both hands. His favorite word expressing his leftist guilt was ‘disadvantaged.’ We argued from the Radwyn Apartments in Bryn Mawr all the way into work at KYW (in the old days, when it was on Walnut Street). My argument was: if someone were disadvantaged, then someone else was advantaged, which fails as a measurement because SOMEONE WILL ALWAYS BE DISADVANTAGED or ADVANTAGED. (E.g., if you have a college degree and someone else doesn’t, you are advantaged. But if you have a BA and someone has an MA, YOU are disadvantaged. And if someone has a PhD, then then MA is disadvantaged.) Disadvantaged is an elastic word, impossible to accurately define, ergo a darling of the left which LOVES undefinable targets… like ‘living wage,’ ‘affordable housing/health care,; ‘smaller classroom size,’ etc. EQUITY is the same sort of word, a squishy word the left loves because it is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve. Shall the government introduce mandatory breeding, so we can have equity among the races?

  6. Good article Stu. There’s an animated video still up of VP Harris titled “Equality versus Eguity.”

Comments are closed.