Equality vs Equity

Equality is the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities. Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial.  Clearly, Equity is the not the same as Equality.

In the second paragraph of the first article of the Declaration of Independence, is the memorable phrase, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."  

Within that sentence there are several foundational principles;

  • "truths that are self-evident."  In accordance with fact or reality, obvious and not needing to be demonstrated.
  • "all men are created equal", Though penned by Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, was influenced by French Philosophers from the Age of Enlightenment.
  • "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," Rights that cannot be transferred to another.
  • "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."  The right to be alive, live and flourish, free of restrictions, to make your own choices and obtaining and practicing happiness.

In order to strive for equality it is important to take into account the historical social construction of "race" resulting power relationships and financial interests. There must be a reckoning for the past abuses of power.  Even with the abolition of legalized slavery in the United States with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constituion in 1865, the legacy of institutionalized and structural racism and segregation continues.  Many still believe that due to the end of slavery and laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that we live in a "color-blind" society. Yet, the inequalities can be seen in all sectors of society including:

  • Workplace:  African American males have an unemployment rate twice that of white males.
  • Wealth Inequality:  The median White household had over $110,000 in wealth holdings in 2011, compared to just over $8,000 for the median Latino household, and just over $7,000 for the median Black household. Several factors are driving the increasing wealth gap.  Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan May 2015
  • Education: African American students are expelled and suspended 3 times that of whites.

The response to these contradictions is that pressure is continuously applied to all sectors of the society to at least attempt to make the "systems" equitable by utilizing systems that are "fair and impartial."  This is difficult to do as every person, no matter how hard they try is infused with their own "implicit biases" that impact their daily decision making. 

Putting in place more equitable systems that utilize diverse and objective criteria can make major steps toward addressing structural racism.


Throughout our nations history we have reinforced the idea of inequality in newspaper stories, cartoons, films, magazines.  During the 1870’s in the publication, Harpers Weekly, Thomas Nast, the American caricaturist used political satire to exaggerate the most stereotypical characteristics of African Americans and Chinese.  These reinforced long held beliefs. 

Congress has proposed thirty-three amendments to the U.S. Constitution since it was put in place in 1789.  Twenty-seven have been adopted, suggesting that there were many inequities imbeded in the original document. It took nearly eighty years and a Civil War that America fought against itself before a pivotal amendment was approved during the period of Reconstruction. 

The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 as a result of the abolition of slavery, grants "citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves.—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.”

Though the Constitution states that everyone is assured equal protection, how that law has been administered by states and the federal government has been fraught with controversy.  Immediately following the end of slavery, state legislatures put in place Jim Crow laws to restrict the newly acquired civil rights of African Americans.  In 1896 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation and "separate but equal" in the landmark case Plessy vs. Ferguson.  That meant that segregated public facilities were legal as long as the segregated facilities were of equal quality. Though many Jim Crow laws ended by 1965, through the adoption of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, individuals continue to fight against new itterations of Jim Crow laws till this day.

However, when it comes down to daily actions, it translates to mean one person is more equal than another. Nonetheless, many people continue to assert that when it comes down to it, they are not willing to give up anything to allow others to be equal to themselves. Self preservation and self identity becomes, my needs come first.

Threats to equality continue to persist in all sectors of society.  Words like patriot and even American are used as tropes to inculcate a particular attribute based on heredity as referenced by race, gender and class.  The more that politicians and civic leaders persist in attributing the “cause” of society’s ills to those who are not citizens and therefore not Americans, the longer institutionalized racism will persist. 

The opportunities to practice equality is hampered by many governmental, business and civil society structural systems and societal beliefs.  For example, whether one gender can engage in a particular occupation, sport, entertainment or career is guided by a belief in not just their ability but how it will be perceived in general society.  For decades it was illegal for women to own property or to vote. Men from all sectors attested to the fact that women were unable to make wise decisions based on the facts.


Recognizing that in the work and career sphere, over many decades, the actual performance of those occupational tasks, has been designed by the product produced. Looking at home furnishings, tools and clothing it can be shown to have been purposely designed to appeal to one gender's taste for function, color, style and comfort.

The path to engage in greater equality increases in all sectors when everyone is welcomed into the circle for their views and participation. For example, between men and women in helping to run the household, if more men are “trained” and expected to perform equally in cooking, child rearing and doing all housework, there will be greater equality in the home. 

The global economy and business practices have benefited from strategies based on a framework of Business for Social Responsibilty.  Companies have become more thorough and accountable in their assessment of resource extraction of raw materials, impacts on global/local communities, workplace practices, product end-of-life disposal and investor support of regimes denial of civil liberties.

Companies have also been more responsive to workplace issues involving sexual harassment, gender identity, worker safety, paths to promotion and leadership, pay equity, non-gendered tasking, health care and retirement. 


Authentic Voices   (links to activists, young people, scholars)


From white supremacy to Barack Obama: The history of the Democratic Party  Vox

Celebs and Activists on White Supremacy  Now this News

The Rise of White Supremacy and It’s new face   Global News 


Seeing White  Center for Documentary Studies

NPR Planet Money  Economic Inequality in America

Groups           (The People’s Response) 

                        Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University


White Nationalists   Southern Poverty Law Center   

Standing Indivisible Against White Supremacy  Indivisible

 Why equality is not the same as equity


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