Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Equality vs. Equity: What's the Difference?

Equality and equity are two sides of the same coin, if you will, that are always pondered within a variety of issues that are often left unresolved.  We have Affirmative Action, Voting Rights, Women Rights, Equal Pay, Equal Marriage, and the list go on to address the lack thereof of equality and equity.  WE must always deal with these and other matters that are not advancing equality and fairness for all humanity.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” is a reminder that the struggle continues.

The ideal of equal access is fundamental to upholding democracy. Treating people equally to achieve fairness.


When some are excluded or lack the knowledge, income, equipment, or training necessary to take part fully in public discourse, they must overcome obstacles to access to ensure fairness. Equity extends beyond equality. Equity thus involves recognizing a pre-existing difference between people and attempt to reduce those differences, through law, policies, and peaceful protest.

Equality vs. Equity

Policies that stress fairness as uniform distribution tend to succeed with Americans because they seem to entitle everyone; and, thus, reinforce the Americans' dominant construction of justice as equality. Conversely, policies aiming to achieve equity face recurring challenges as "unfair." Affirmative Action, Lyndon Johnson's attempt to overcome generations of discrimination and injustice against women and minorities, became the law of the land. Without achieving the approval of Americans who saw it as "unfair" because it appeared to favor some over others; and, thus, to negate the more commonly understood concept of fairness as equality and as uniform distribution. Nancy Kranich concluded, and I agree; Based upon Jorge Schement, "Imagining Fairness: Equality and Equity of Access in Search of Democracy," in Nancy Kranich,  Libraries, and Democracy, Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2001: 15-27.

Note: The image is from Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) who has long believed that this picture, illustrating the difference between equality and equity, is worth a thousand words.

By James H. Williams

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