The Intentionality of Equity

My friend Deanna Zandt and some of her colleagues recently became frustrated with the imbalance of the “Top 10 This” and “Most Powerful That” lists which invariably skew toward one demographic, albeit even if the cause is often innocent (owing to the subtle and fancily-titled phenomenon, homophily). Admirably, they wished go beyond simply whining about the issue and devised a solution: #One4One.

This challenge asks people to create their own list of “influencers” with just one constraint: the names you select must have an identity that is radically different as your own. For example, “if you’re a dude, name a woman. If you’re white, name a person of color. If you’re straight, name an LGBTQ person” etc. Voting is done by the crowds, who – if they are observing the contest to start with – are likely taking on the same degree of thoughtfulness that the challenge creators and nominators are.

I like this exercise because it forces you to realize that comprehensive perspectives often requires a degree of thought and determination to go outside the comfortably worn ruts we and the media create for ourselves. It takes a bit more effort and intentionality.

Significantly, what really struck me was Deanna’s distinction between equity, equality and diversity. I really cannot improve on her phrasing of this crucial point, so here it is in her (and Zetta Elliott’s) own words:

It’s important to note that I’m talking about equity here, and not equality or diversity. Equality is the wrong frame, because it sets up a frame that says one group (in this case, men or white people) are the standard, and those that don’t have that identity are deviant from that standard and must strive to be equal. I don’t, for example, want to be “equal” to men, and I don’t want the world to be “gender-blind.” I want my gender recognized and accounted for, and the perspectives that I bring to the table accounted for.

Which brings me to why “diversity” isn’t the right frame, either– something I’ve learned from my time on the board of the Applied Research Center, publisher of The huge difference between these approaches is best summed up by a quote from this blogger:

Diversity is when you invite many different kinds of people to sit at your table. You look for difference in terms of age, race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, ethnicity, etc. But equity means addressing the fact that some people come to the table without a fork, some have two plates or none at all, some expect to be waited on, and some are more accustomed to doing the serving. Equity attempts to ensure that everyone can sit down to eat together on terms of equality.

I’ve already submitted one #One4One so far and look forward to seeing yours!