July 3, 2020

Let’s Clarify the Meaning of Equity

Written by Julye M. Williams

A lover of people, justice, and equity.

This month we’ll begin a deep dive into inequity. We’ll explore what it is, unpack why it’s a problem for a healthy democracy, and learn the origins of many inequities in our society today. We’ll also explore what we can do individually and collectively to dismantle them. As a bonus, we’re launching a quiz later this month to test your ability to spot inequities. Are you ready?

First, we’re going to look at the opposite of inequity – equity. Let’s go!

Let’s start with an image.

Take a look at the three scenes below. What do you notice?

These three scenes are a great way to highlight the difference between three words – equality, equity, and the ultimate goal – justice.

Did you notice the barrier?

In the first two images, there is a barrier – a solid wall that, for two soccer fans, must be overcome in order for them to enjoy the game. I imagine someone noticed that everyone couldn’t see the game, so they had a thought. Let’s give everyone a crate to stand on. To make it equal, and fair, we’ll give everyone the same size crate. That should help, right? Wrong. While this attempt at equality, giving everyone the same thing, was made, it doesn’t solve the problem for everyone. And, it doesn’t take into consideration what people actually need to be able to participate as raving fans of the soccer match.

Not every person needs the same kind of support to overcome barriers.

The next scene is a demonstration of equity – giving people what they need so that they can overcome the barriers they face. In the second image, we see that the person in the grey shirt (the tallest person) doesn’t need any support. They already have the advantage of being tall, and this lets them easily overcome the barrier in front of them. The people in red and yellow need additional support, however, but not the same amount. The person in red needs to stand on just one crate to see over the barrier. The person in yellow needs two. This distribution of crates helps each person see the soccer match and cheer their friends and family from the sidelines.

Our goal should be to remove barriers.

The last image, justice, is of course, the ultimate goal. Making adjustments to help people overcome barriers is critically important. But, what actually solves the problem for everyone is removing the barriers that exist in the first place. Notice that removing the barrier doesn’t take anything away from the person in the grey shirt – the tallest person who didn’t need any support. In fact removing the barrier simply allows everyone – regardless of their height – to be full fledged soccer fans and experience the joy of the game, no matter their natural height.

Do you notice the barriers others face?

A key takeaway from this image is that we must be aware of the barriers others face. We must work to provide equity to help people overcome the barriers in the way, while simultaneously working to dismantle the barriers themselves. I wonder, does the tallest person even see the solid wall as a barrier? It doesn’t prevent him from enjoying the game, so does he notice that others don’t have the same opportunity?

It’s time to develop our awareness.

This month, we’re digging into inequity. Specifically where there is a lack of fairness and justice. Today, we took a look at what equity looks like, and what our ultimate goal – justice – really means. 

As we prepare for an inclusive, healthy, multi-racial democracy, we must become aware of the barriers our friends, neighbors, and other people across our country face. And, it is important to say that barriers aren’t based only upon someone’s racial identity. Barriers related to someone’s gender, sexual identity, ability, religion, and more exist in America today. Just because something may not affect us personally, or we may not encounter a barrier in our own day-to-day doesn’t mean everyone has that same experience.

 What else did you notice in the images?

There is so much to pull from the three scenes above. What did you see, and what interpretation did you make from the image?

Let us know. We look forward to growing in awareness with you.

In solidarity,


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  1. Janice

    Great article. I love the simplicity of the visuals you used to define equality, equity and justice. Thanks for clarifying this important distinction and challenging us all to heighten our awareness.

    • Julye M. Williams

      Thank you so much, Janice! I’m glad you found it helpful. Yes, having clear definitions of keywords is important as we develop our awareness. Thank you for the comment!


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