So, you might have seen this recent post, which talks about the problem with the equity vs equality graphic that’s been doing the rounds recently. The graphic itself highlights the difference between and approach where we give everyone the same (equality) vs giving people differently depending on their different particulars (equity). I’ve seen different versions but basically it illustrates it with (in the case they use here) people trying to look over a fence… if everyone is given a box of the same height, only some people are able to look over the fence, because they are tall enough to start with.
The post critiques the graphic, for subtly reinforcing the idea that it’s individual characteristics that result in unequal opportunities, rather than structural or systemic factors – factors like racism, poverty etc. – that intersect to produce and perpetuate very unequal starting positions. The graphic is a shorthand to capture the idea of an approach rooted in justice, with an outcomes rather than inputs focus (equality of outcomes rather than equality of inputs). I’ve shared it. I like it. It’s powerful in that it succinctly encapsulates and transmits a crucial distinction for those of us working around equity, inclusion and social justice.
However, as a shorthand, it does, necessarily, reduce complexity of argument. As someone who works with the nuance of language, and understands representational power at both gross and subtle levels, I do appreciate the concerns raised. We don’t want to employ or deploy metaphors that inadvertently communicate ideas that facilitate diminished responses to injustice, or that allow people to resist equity on ‘individual difference’ type grounds.
Will I still use it? Yes, probably, but I might nuance my discussion a bit more with this consideration… And I do like the suggestions presented here, of a third box – in which it’s the fence itself which is undone.