We’ve all seen this picture, right?
In a picture-is-worth-1,000-words kind of way, this image simplifies the profound difference between equality and equity. From this picture people have actually begun to understand that treating everyone equally doesn’t lead to equity, and in fact, equal treatment often perpetuates and justifies racial hierarchies. Yes, this picture has taught us a lot.
But, it’s time to move on.
This picture —the noble imagery of the equity movement — is white supremacy at work.
Sorry folks. But it’s true.
First and foremost, the shortest boy is positioned as the problem. He needs multiple boxes to see over the fence. He’s the one who is the pathology: he’s literally less than the others. The shortest boy is — by sheer presentation alone — not whole, not normal, especially compared to the tallest boy. And because he is shorter he is seen as the problem, he needs more help. He is by fact, needy.
Dominant and oppressive narratives about people of color bleed into this picture: people of color are less than and thus, need more.
This is white supremacy. This feeds into the oh-so-familiar racist politic — people of color have little to offer, and yet take so many public resources. Heard that before haven’t you?
Even those who “center equity” feed into this framework — people of color need our resources because they’re too broken to have their own. Volunteered with that organization maybe?
It is high time to rid ourselves of these white supremacy-laden “equity” ideas, and actually recognize the full humanity and capabilities of people of color.
Imagine if you will, 3 people —all the same goddamn size. The ground beneath them slopes, buckling beneath one person so significantly that person cannot see over the fence at all. The foundation on which these people stand is unequal, and that foundation, might we even say systemic, difference leads to some being able to watch the baseball game, while others cannot.
Yes, the person who is on the slope requires a box or two to stand on, but it is only because they are on lower ground to start — not because they are shorter to begin with.
As useful as the picture was in starting conversations around “Equality vs. Equity,” we are basically blaming the person for being short, when in reality, we aren’t standing on a level playing field to start. We aren’t *allowed* to stand on a level playing field.
In fact, we are — by reason of policy, practice, prejudice, and bias — forced to stand on a lower level … AND then told we should be happy to be near the game at all. All while not given enough boxes to see over the fence.
The unequal ground we are forced to stand on is the aspect of the picture we need to change. Understanding that those boxes are necessary because of the sloping ground is key to undoing white supremacy. With this new picture, let us decolonize the rules of where we stand and why.
That is equity.