Access Isn’t Equity, Part 1.5

dolphinBy Erin O.

This is a short blog post for a couple of reasons — 1) I’m working on my netbook and it is really sloooooow , 2) it is spring break – I have to get back to drawing dolphins with the kid (her request), and 3) Heidi wrote a lot last week so if you need more to think about feel free to re-read what she wrote.

Since Heidi promised a part two to her blog post this is part 1.5. Heidi laid out some ideas on how to think about equity and what is more equitable and what is simply giving access to a system not designed by or for people of color. In this part 1.5, I’ll give five quick examples of where people try to pass off access as equitable practices. I’ve been doing my job long enough to have a list of activities people have mentioned as equitable practices but they are more around access and inclusion than equitable in principle and nature.

Translation and Interpretation: This is the number one practice people list as being equitable, it is also one of the most basic practices of racial equity. Providing language access is an important and one of the fundamental ways for many people of color to participate. Translation and interpretation should be high quality, no Google or Bing translate, and it should also be culturally nuanced.

Translation and interpretation fall under access because it is providing people of color (and other non-dominant language speakers) access to an already existing system. It is important access but it isn’t equitable since it wasn’t designed by the people most impacted.

Going into the Community, Evening Meetings, and Town Halls: Having time and location accessible events is an important part of attracting people of color to participate. An event a few streets away is much more appealing than having to figure out how to get across town, pay for parking, and know I probably won’t be in familiar company. Having events in local communities and going to people is important for reaching diversity and inclusion goals. These activities fall under access and inclusion because the process for these meetings is probably not one designed by people of color for their comfort (see last week’s post for more details on what this means). Evening meetings and having meetings when people are available is important, but if the meeting is still all about you and your agenda it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, I call fakequity.

Scholarships, Fellowships, and Diversity Efforts: These are great for helping people of color and others who are traditionally outside of a system into the door. So many people have found success because of scholarships. In a very roundabout way, because of a philanthropic fellowship and the network and access it provided, I got my present job. Scholarships and the like are great at bringing people of color in to help diversify efforts. Many times these efforts aren’t designed for poc comfort and can have a tokenizing impact on pocs, there is also the pressure to assimilate as well. That said often the access is meaningful and important, such as a college scholarship can change the trajectory of a person’s life, but we should also recognize access to a system and process not designed for pocs isn’t equitable.

Such as think about how many people of color with college scholarships drop out because they feel isolated, have additional barriers (i.e. transportation, needing money to pay for living expenses not covered by the scholarship, housing, family obligations, etc.). A friend who is a Dean of a college told me how she learned of a immigrant student who was in a master’s program and doing well, until she wasn’t. The staff asked the student what was going on and they learned she had to start driving for Lyft between 11.00 – 2.00 a.m. to make extra money to stay in school and help her family. The college gave her access to their program and some support, but that wasn’t enough to remove the most basic barriers to her participation in school. In a more equitable scenario, the student would have received comprehensive support including housing, cash assistance, and been continually consulted to make sure she had what she needed thus changing the system and centering her and other students of color. For a more privileged student a scholarship would have been enough access to complete the program, pocs often have additional hurdles where a scholarship isn’t enough.

Task Force Me to Death: Whenever I hear of a younger or less jaded colleague joining a task force I first congratulate them on their appointment to the prestigious task force (all task forces are special otherwise they wouldn’t exist), then I tell them to take all of their expectations and reduce it by two-thirds, possibly four-fifths depending on the task force. Task forces are important tools for gaining buy-in, highlighting inequities, and hopefully doing some of the background work needed before taking things to the public. Yet task forces are often working with dominant culture standards, timelines, and practices which aren’t designed with the comfort and control of people of color at the center of it.

Public Testimony at Government Meetings: I wrote about this before so I won’t go into detail, but let’s categorize public testimony and really most of the current ways of policy making under access. Control of the process is still held by a dominant white culture way of operating. Public testimony gives people access to influence the system but the final decisions and entire process isn’t determined by those most impacted.

Heidi still owes us part two of her previous blog post. When it is published we can see what examples she has and how she describes access isn’t equity. Access is an important step in reaching more equitable results. We need to overhaul our systems and work to change practices to say access and inclusion are important, and they aren’t enough. We need to aim for equity and in some cases recognize access and inclusion are tools to help us get there.

Heidi, you’re now up for part two where I hope you’ll delve into the other categories and how transformational equity with penguins is key to a better life.

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