Equity Doesn’t Mean All

By Erin Okuno

I want to share a quick project: A colleague is collecting books written by Asian and Pacific Islanders to share with the folks at the Stafford Creek Correctional Center. Folks there created a group, Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group and even created their own API curriculum. We’ve put together an Amazon wishlist of books written by APIs that will be donated to APICAG, my colleague is collecting books until 30 November 2018. If you would like to make a cash donation or order books from an independent bookseller please email fakequity@gmail.com.

Also, we’re taking next week off from blogging. See you the following week.


AdvancingEquityEvery few weeks or months I’ll hear or read something that says: “Equity for all,” “Equity statement: All students will…,” “All students deserve equity…,” etc. When I read these statements or see them on gigantic protest signs at meetings I sigh and remind myself that ‘equity’ has become a buzzword. White people have co-opted it to justify privilege and opportunity hoarding – they’ve stolen equity from people of color, like they always do.

Equity should never mean all.

There are many definitions of racial equity, but they all have the same sentiment: one’s racial identity no longer predicts how one will fare in life. Currently, we can predict outcomes based on a person’s race. Look at any statistical chart and we can make assumptions of who will be on the top and who will be at the bottom. Racial equity is achieved when this is no longer true. Another definition I like comes from the Aspen Institute“Racial equity refers to what a genuinely non-racist society would look like. In a racially equitable society, the distribution of society’s benefits and burdens would not be skewed by race. …” 

Racial equity work is never about all people receiving benefits. Equitable distribution of privileges and resources is about shifting resources and dismantling racist systems that allow some, mostly white people, to take more than they need. Working towards racial equity means those who are achieving and have privileges and resources do not need more. They may feel or think they deserve more, but that is hoarding of resources and privileges. This is how it sounds like:

“It is an equity argument. Our school has a small percentage of students of color. Our school isn’t a Title 1 school and doesn’t get additional resources to take care of our kids who need help. Our kids deserve [fill in the blank request: advanced placement classes, photography classes, ceramics, athletics, bilingual education, etc.] because this may be the only chance poor kids of color at our school are exposed to these things.” School demographics: 69% white, 9% low income, 3% English Language Learner.

equity for black and brown peopleOn the face of the statement, yes we want to give this school more – who wouldn’t want photography classes, bilingual education and all of the other great stuff. But when we say yes to funding this ask for the mostly white school, we’re saying no to students of color in another place where the need is greater. Someone will argue with me that my zero-sum-game argument is false – it isn’t. In our current society, we are bound by the resources we have. The systems we have in place to work towards distribution means some will receive and others won’t and who we give to determine outcomes.

If we are working towards racial equity, we cannot give resources to all, we need to take a greater look at the entire system. When we look at the whole system we’ll see there is a small percentage of kids in need at that one school and we’ll see if resources are shifted in that school the needs of students who need support could be met. The school already has the resources it needs within the school, but those resources need to be redistributed to meet the needs of their students of color. Such as, do students who are already ahead need more to keep their lead OR can we say you have what you need and realign the resources to meet those needs and it might be saying no to something popular like adding an advanced placement class, but this is equity work – redistributing resources to close racialized gaps and not taking more than needed.

My other favorite line of thought: “My kid needs/deserves this [fill in the blank] because they go to a school with other students of color. It is an equity issue for all of the kids.” Sorry, equitable solutions are not found this way. You don’t get to claim equitable need by proxy of being next to a poc – stop stealing our equity.

Equity isn’t for all.

Equity can never be about all, because with true equity we are laser-focused on the needs of those who are the farthest from justice. This is hard to do in a society that fundamentally believes in equal access, focuses on amassing privileges, and has racist practices and policies that uphold white privileges.

Working towards racial equity is about looking at who is farthest from justice and reallocating resources and undoing barriers standing in the way of this. Removing barriers and reallocating resources isn’t easy. People with privileges aren’t used to giving up what they have grown accustomed to having and now see as an entitlement. They want what is best for others when it benefits them, hence why they evoke the name of equity and other ‘disadvantaged’ kids.

What to do

The first thing to do is stop believing everyone needs and deserves equity. Let the phrase “Equity for All” die a quick and purposeful death. Take all your protest signs and put them in the recycle bin, toss the buttons you have with that phrase into the garbage where they belong. If you can’t bear to throw them away edit them to say “Equity for All Black and Brown People.” Equity isn’t for all. Equity is for those farthest from justice, and if we are working towards true equity those farthest from justice can define for themselves what they need to be whole, healthy, and in just relations with others.


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