Equity Vs. Equalityby Wendy Gladney on 04/20/20
The travesty of COVID-19 has sparked many conversations around racial disparities among the African American community. There are a lot of people discussing how hard the Black community has been hit by this epidemic and why. It is interesting because initially there were rumors that this disease could not, would not hit our community. The novel Coronavirus is not specifically targeting the African American community; but rather, because of the health disparities that already existed within the Black community, they are among the hardest hit.
There is an old African American aphorism that says, “When white America catches a cold, Black America gets pneumonia.” In the case of COVID-19, more often than not when white America gets sick, they survive; when Black America gets it, they die. People often talk about wanting equality, but the reality is we need equity. It has been expressed that equity and equality are two strategies that can be used to produce fairness. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help. The problem is everybody does not start from the same place. There are many that start behind the starting line and it has been that way for generations.
Structural Racism is just part of the problem. Racism has been around for generations and still exists here in America. It is based on policies and practices that are put in place by those that are in power. Because of the inequities and disparities, the Black community has higher levels of health issues such as heart disease, higher levels of stress, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure that are tied to racial inequality and poverty. The way the majority, especially those in power, look at minorities is often related to economics. If they are needed for labor then they have value, but the question becomes, does their basic existence matter? Do our lives matter?
Since the end of slavery, racism has underwritten black economics and the lack thereof. African Americans are heavily concentrated in low-wage jobs that the government and the powers that be have designated as “essential.” In a press conference, Vice-President Pence expressed the role of low-wage workers as being “essential” workers. He said, “You are giving a great service to the people of the United States of America, and we need for you to continue, as a part of what we call critical infrastructure, to show up and do your job.” There are reports that Black and low-income individuals have reported that they were not feeling well, yet they were mandated to return to work. Oftentimes without even proper protective gear. Their lives did not matter. Some have even died (check out Tyson food workers). Where is the equity or equality in this?
When people are hungry, worried about losing their homes and looking down the barrel of unemployment, they do not prioritize their safety or health, especially when the “system” has not treated them equitably in the first place. Many African American workers are on the front lines facing the public in areas such as public transportation, retail, food service, and other industries where social distancing is difficult. There are systemic factors and stereotypes lined up against African Americans (and other minorities and poor people) that cause the “system” to discriminate against them. We must work on ending this crisis. But we will only eradicate this problem when equity and equality walk hand and hand for everyone.
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