Achieving equity requires real, actual hard work to address privilege, and policies and money directed at equalizing outcomes. I know this to be true because just waiting for things to get better doesn’t seem to work too well. And neither does having the best of intentions.
Even when there are real efforts made to create more equitable spaces, people can get real upset that someone else may have gotten something they weren’t “entitled” to because something about not being able to see how equity does not equal everyone being treated the same all of the time. Despite inequity being the cornerstone of unequal health outcomes, unequal wealth outcomes, unequal life expectancy outcomes, unequal everything outcomes, we can’t seem to get real serious about addressing inequity in real and meaningful ways. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the ways that workplaces, educational institutes, and community spaces talk the big equity talk without doing the big equity walk. A lot of the ways that make a big splash about moving towards equity actually does little to get us there. So I want to talk about some of the toothless equity approaches that I am unwilling to participate in to make spaces more equal.
1. Equity committees. Hello, marginalized people. Being marginalized in this space sure sucks. Why don’t you join an equity committee and tell us all about it. Will we pay you? Heavens, no! But there will be muffins. Well, there may be muffins. We will promise muffins but we won’t deliver. What can we actually offer? Don’t tell anyone, but we can offer you: a) a group of people who like the idea of being on an equity committee, but who hold privilege over you, and aren’t really committed to doing anything other than showing up and expressing distress about the lack of muffins, b) a guarantee that you will be the only person that really cares about the issue, that does any work to bring knowledge to the meetings about the issue, and that ends up doing all of the work about the issue, because you really, really care about it, and c) lots and lots of misery and frustration. Also, did we tell you this is strictly voluntary? So, you’ll be doing this for free. Maybe you’ll get some muffins.
2. Cutting everyone some slack. No. Really. I try pretty hard to follow the rules of being respectful, and I think that generally most of the same rules apply to me. I don’t think that you like having your hair touched, or having uncomfortable jokes made about your skin colour, or being told you look like the one other person everyone knows from your ethnic group, or being the expert on all things [insert identity marker here]. So don’t do those things. Or if you do those things, or purpose or by accident (by the way, it’s 2013, these things aren’t accidents anymore, at best it’s accidentally on purpose), expect that I may have a reaction. And that reaction may be something along the lines of “Black people were not invented just yesterday. Stop treating me like a grand curiosity.”
3. Go slow. As I’ve pointed out, people of my ethnicity have existed forever. So. What are we waiting for? When does it get better? Why do I have to wait? Why can’t you go faster? I want to be able to ride the bus without someone acting like I’m an infectious parasite now. Not next year. Not when my children’s children’s children’s children have babies. Because also, we have been on this continent since slavery began, and things still aren’t well and good. That’s a lot of time, in my opinion.
4. Stop being so politically correct. NO. You stop being so offensive. Period.
5. Make it a teachable moment. Have you heard of the internet? What about books? Great. Go forth and teach yourself. Imma do me.
BONUS TRACK: Look at the bright side. Well if you’re here now, things must be much better than they were before. Yes. That’s right. People have been fighting for and dying for and having a dream for things to be so-so for me now, and maybe even lukewarm for the next generation. That seems to be right. I’m familiar with all of those civil rights slogans that say “I am fighting this fight so that things are possibly mediocre for those who come after me, except in most measures of inclusion and well-being, those can remain awful.” Clearly words my family marched to. I’m not big on pretending that just because things could be worse, that logically they must be good. I am not willing to swallow that big-ass, bitter-ass pill so that people can feel okay about ongoing manifestations of oppression. I just canx, as the kids are saying for some reason (why are the kids saying that?).
Look. I want things to get better. But I also want the process of things getting better to get better. I don’t want to have to carry additional burdens so that maybe things will be less burdensome for me down the road. I want spaces to compensate me for my time and the real pain I experience through marginalization. I want to be treated as the expert, if that’s what I am. I want people to educate themselves, and do the hard work themselves. It isn’t any easier when we do it for you. In fact, because we live in the bodies that experience the marginalization, it’s likely much worse.
There are things to think about when you ask people experiencing marginalization to help you (read: do the work for you) make your professional and cultural spaces safer. So: stop, deep breath. Ask yourself what you are doing, what you are asking others with privilege to do, and what you are doing to compensate those that are on the receiving end of the oppression that exists in your spaces. Because there are things I’m not willing to do, and asking me again won’t change that.