Over the last couple of years, the word equity has become more and more prominent in discussions of how to address growing poverty and inequality along lines of race, class and gender. In light of the coronavirus, equity for those in impoverished communities, mainly those of color, is almost unattainable.
America’s preexisting conditions
In my view, there are three preexisting conditions that already had a large number of people questioning the morality and sustainability of our social order:
1. The resurgence of racist ideologies which has made possible the current presidency, which in turn has refueled the resurgence.
2. The resurgence has re-awakened a segment of society that felt the fight for civil rights had already been won.
3. The concern that growing wealth disparities will eventually lead to social instability and put the entire social order at risk.
Faced with unemployment that is probably close to 20%, levels not seen since the Great Depression, the push to make our society more equitable has transcended identity politics and been brought into the mainstream.
Resistance to change
Though there may be a lot of energy and interest in changing our society, in truth, any critical look at past efforts to make America a more equitable society will show that the challenges of doing so are often met with lots of resistance, trickery and violence. Inequitable structural conditions simply change their clothes, as folks attempt to create a more equitable society.
For just a few examples of the many historical demonstrations of this reality, we can refer to Black Wall Street, COINTELPRO, the MOVE organization bombing, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. For a handful of examples of the changing faces of inequity that have helped our current structures remain foundationally inequitable, we can look to the dismantling of the reconstruction era, persistent and widespread police brutality and state violence, and the recent efforts to attack Roe v. Wade.
For further analysis, you can refer to resources such as the film “13th,” “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. History has a clear message for us about the prospects of creating equity within our inequitable society. The branches cannot be of a different kind from the roots.
If we’re honest about it, this country has never been equitable. In fact, it was built on inequity and it continues to be fueled by inequitable structures.
Continue to push for something different
How can we create some processes and procedures to mitigate inequity in our social, legal and economic structures? How can we begin some conversations about creating a system that is equitable? What can each of us do in the present to advance equity in our society? And how do we continue to fight for equity during these difficult times?
First and foremost, all of us, every last one of us, must engage others in our work, home and play spaces to have honest, open and authentic conversations around the issue of inequity. Some of us, particularly those in positions of power, must have the courage and strength to look more deeply at the inequitable structures that exist within their own organizations and institutions.
The real courageous ones must begin to look at and change policies, processes and cultures that prevent creating more equitable institutions. For example, we need to begin to internally reward staff and departments that take tangible action to address the equity question and create consequences for those that don’t. We must engage in these difficult conversations which can help us have a better understanding of ourselves, others and our history as we seek to build structures with the possibility for equity.
As layoffs and lockdowns free up our time and mental energy, we can put energy daily into building relationships that can birth more equitable ways of being through genuine human connection and opportunities for empowerment, agency, self-determination and rebirth. The old structures and false solutions do not provide the promise of equity. At this moment, we need brave new connections that begin to pave the way for a better path forward.
Imhotep Adisa is the executive director and co-founder of the Kheprw Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering youth and building community wealth in Indianapolis.