Mayowa Sanusi, MPH

Sep 30, 2020

4 min read

We Need Equity in Order to be Equal

For months now, the cries for liberation of the oppressed have grown louder and louder due to the inequities of COVID-19, brought on by systemic racism, and the media coverage around the killing of unarmed Black and brown men and women. The centuries long demand for justice and reconciliation has reached a new level of “awareness” among the masses. I say “awareness” because I’m not sure if people really know what it means to demand equality and justice for people of the African diaspora. What equality really amounts to is equity. There is no equality without equity.

Say you had two runners competing in a marathon. One runner starts 1000 yards behind the other, has no shoes on, and has 30 hurdles in front of them. The other runner is 1000 yards ahead of the other, has the latest model shoes that help with their performance, and has no hurdles in the way. What do you think would happen if you told them to start at the same time? You wouldn’t expect the person that started behind to keep up with the person in front of them, would you? This is essentially what happens any time a color blind or equal approach is applied in the community when an equitable approach is needed. A colorblind or equality approach would see all these obstacles that one runner had and ignore them, starting both the runners at the same time. An equitable approach would recognize that one runner had more obstacles to face and would remove those obstacles before starting the race. This marathon represents our current state in American and in this example, the disadvantaged runner represents Black Americans, faced with centuries of oppression, and the advantaged runner represents White Americans privileged by systems of White supremacy.

Equality says that everyone gets treated the same regardless of the various obstacles that different groups of people may face, but what happens when one notices that some people need more resources than others after centuries of oppression? This is where equity comes in to play. Equity recognizes that some people need more than others in order to truly reach equality. What Black and other oppressed people truly need is equity before we can ever come to a place of equality. After 400 years of oppression, it is impossible for Black and White people to be treated equally without reconciling past and current systems of oppression that have caused massive inequities. In order to reach a place of equality, oppressed people need to intentionally be given more resources. This is equity and the COVID-19 pandemic response is a perfect example of why equity is needed before equality.

When examining the COVID-19 pandemic response there are a few major policies and actions that have been taken including testing and PPP loans. At the start of COVID, testing sites in some communities of color were very limited. State and federal government took an equality approach rather than an equity approach. An equity approach would have looked at historical outbreaks in the U.S, like H1N1, and realized that communities of color are likely to be more impacted by COVID. An equity approach also would have realized that more demographic data needed to be collected with testing, such as race/ethnicity data, so that the community can understand where the greatest need is. When examining Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans distribution, one can see that an equality approach was used by the federal government. PPP loans were supposed to help “small” businesses, but major corporations still received funding. Not only did small businesses miss out on this opportunity, Black and brown businesses especially received little to no funding from this program. If we are to address COVID-19 and systems of oppression that drive the inequities we see daily, we will need to look towards a future where we make intentional equitable approaches.

Seattle, WA 6/13/2020

What an equity approach looks like in the Black community is economic justice and reparations, knowing that there has been years of racist policies and systems that have caused a massive disinvestment in communities of color. An equity approach also looks like a concentration of resources for healing that addresses generational trauma in communities of color because oppressed people need healing before they can move forward. As we continue to address systemic racism and the ever increasing economic and social downturn brought on by COVID-19, we must approach arising issues with equity in mind. We must ask ourselves who is being harmed the most and who is left without power? Once that is determined, resources must be allocated and decisions must be made equitably. If oppressed people are to be treated equally, society must reconcile oppression with equity.