Do you know the difference between equality and equity? Why is it important?
It is important if you want to understand the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the Bernie Sanders phenomenon that has galvanized millions of young people to follow him. It is important if you are Muslim and living in America and it is important if you are not part of the top 1 percent. It is important if you are white and male and see your power and dominance being threatened by the increasing number of minorities.
Equity means not just that everyone is equal under the law; it signifies a leveling of the playing field. The concept that comes to mind is the illustration of three boys watching a ball game. The tall boy can see over the fence, the medium-sized boy can only see by standing on a box, while the short boy needs two boxes to be able to fully participate. The boxes represent equity.
Equity is important to blacks because a disproportionate number are killed by police or are in prison. The argument is that black males are singled out for punishment due to the color of their skin. When it comes to the criminal justice system there is no equity.
Bernie Sanders advocates paid college tuition. If his proposal were adopted, it would be equity because all would start and finish equal to those who take their wealth and education for granted.
Hillary Clinton and her supporters have been shocked by the disregard for her precedent-setting potential to become the first female president. That is not enough for the Sanders supporters. According to Sanders, Clinton has been too tainted by her close connections to Wall Street. Her potential presidency is perceived as the continuation of the same old ways of doing things. More is needed. That “more” is equity.
Muslims and other religious minorities would not be the focus for discrimination because of the garments they wear or the religious beliefs they hold. This would signify equity to them.
Donald Trump’s railings against Muslims, undocumented immigrants, and his desire to build a wall to keep more immigrants from coming have exacerbated this sense of victimhood and inequity. Anger at injustice by those on the left and fear of the loss of power by those on the right have polarized this nation.
This new assertive approach is shocking to many of the older generation. I have recently discussed this topic with several blacks and younger minorities. Their demand for equity is jarring. They see themselves as victims who have been oppressed by those in power – the white majority. The growing number and power of racial and ethnic minorities has caused this group to demand their place in the power structure and to see injustice, as they define it, to come to an end.
For any student of history, many of these demands have validity. Blacks and minorities have been mistreated. Their perspectives have often been ignored and scoffed at by those who hold power.
The problem with this search for equity is that while the complaints of the left have validity, the sense of victimhood will only set the stage for the next paradigm shift. As soon as the new power groups gain their ends, the danger is that they will become the new persecutors who will force their will upon those who have lost power. Those who oppressed in the past will become the new persecuted ones who suffer inequity.
Human nature tends to follow cyclical patterns and to go to extremes. Only by becoming aware of these patterns and attaining maturity (living in the tension between extremes) will we be saved from the abuse of power on one hand and too much freedom on the other.