Equity vs Race – Be clear with language

I’m 90% sure I’ve blogged about this before, but it warrants an updated post – stop using the word equity as a proxy for the words race, racism, Black, Brown, people of color, etc.

If you do a quick online news search for the word ‘equity’ search results pop up quickly. Such as:

  • Equity Is Fundamental to Implementation Science (SSIR)
  • State starts to see vaccine equity success, announces new plan to expand distribution (Minnesota/KARE11)
  • Washington State’s Equity Relief Fund awards nearly $12 million to 358 nonprofits statewide (WA State Dept of Commerce)

In these and many other headlines and titles, the word equity should be swapped out for a more precise term. Let me re-write the headlines from above:

  • Understanding Race is Fundamental to Implementation Success
  • State starts to see vaccine social-vulnerability gap closing, success. Announces a new plan to expand distribution.
  • Washington State’s Communities of Color Relief Fund

With these more precise terms we can see how the intention of the headline changes. As an example a person from a financial background could have read the Department of Commerce grant headline and thought of financial equity and may have tried to apply for the grant for their for-profit, white-serving or color blind, organization or business.

Equity is sometimes used to code language and avoid talking about what we should be talking about. The word equity is subbed in as a subtle way to nod towards equity, without saying words such as race, racism, white privilege, whiteness, equality, etc. As an example, all of the statement on the left are statements I’ve pulled from news articles:

  • How important is equity to you? vs. How important is racism to you?
  • We must close the equity gap in housing. (Note this could mean financial equity gap.) vs. We must close the racial imbalance in homeownership gap.
  • “Using a random drawing system to keep gifting equitable,” vs. Using a random drawing system to keep gifting fair or without bias.

This sometimes happens in government documents where it isn’t politically feasible or politically advantageous to use precise language such as Black, African American, people of color, racism, etc.

Be Precise – Use the Words

It is important to say what we mean to say. If we are talking about Black people and Black communities we need to use the word Black and not hide behind terms such as people of color, minorities, equity. It is ok to use terms that precisely name what we need them to say.

Color blindness and not talking about race is how we got to where we are today. US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts opined: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Chief Justice Roberts sided with the plurality which stopped the use of race as a tie breaker in student assignment plans. For reference look up Parents Involved with Community Schools v. Seattle School District 1. Had he wanted to be more clear with his language he could have said (but really not mean), “The way we stop discriminating on the basis of race against people of color, is to stop white privilege.”

When we are clear or clearer with our words and language we allow people of color to be seen and understood. Unclear language and hiding behind words such as equity, equal, sometimes even terms like People of Color when we really mean Black and African Americans are tools of racism. To undo racism we have to confront it and with every tool possible, including precise and clear language.

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