“Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.” D.H. Lawrence
“Of all injustice, that is the greatest which goes under the name of law; and of all sorts of tyranny the forcing of the letter of the law against the equity, is the most insupportable.”
“I know, up on top you are seeing great sights. But down at the bottom we, too, should have some rights.” Dr. Seuss
The word equity comes from a Latin root meaning level or even; it’s from the same root as equal. Webster talks about equity as fairness, impartiality and justice, so these things are all related. Ken Collier, a colleague in the UU ministry who wrote a book on our Principles and Purposes, talks about justice as something that begins in ourselves, and equity as the vehicle through which justice goes out into the world. It is about commitment and action, the commitment and actions that promote justice.
What is equity? Well one thing that it is not, is it is not a Calvinistic principle pitting the saved against the unsaved. It’s more of a Universalist approach: we are all in this together. If any of us is saved, we are all saved. Equity is about how society determines the value it ascribes to all its members, and if it is truly level, and fair, even and impartial, that same value can only be ascribed to all of us. Again, equity is a long way from becoming a reality, but it is a guiding principle and provides us with a worthy goal.
Justice Equity and Compassion: Human Relations as Religious Pursuit
A Sermon by Charles Blustein Ortman, November 7, 2004
And what of equity? Equity is often used interchangeably with the term equality and yet equity actually refers to evenhanded treatment under the law. Equity was at stake when women asked for equal pay for equal work. Equity was at stake when a man of colour was picked up for speeding when a white man was not.
And equity is at stake in this little rhyme, which you may remember:
“The rain, it raineth all about, upon the just and unjust fella,
But more upon the just because the unjust has the just’s umbrella.”
Rev. Kit Ketcham from Miss Katty’s Salon and Roadshow
Nineteenth-century Unitarian (U.S.) Senator Charles Sumner once said, “There are dinners without appetites at one end of the table and appetites without dinners at the other.” In that graphic image he captured the concept of inequity – fundamental unfairness in the distribution of goods necessary for life. Some people have too much and don’t know what to do with it; some people have too little and don’t know how to get enough…. Equity carries the sense of fairness… being a value intuitively grasped by children at an early age.
In his dinner table image, Sumner grasped the reality of a world of plenty in which superfluity and want stand side by side both within and among nations. Equity not only demands that a society improve the conditions of its impoverished, but also calls into question the corruptions of its affluent.
Edward Frost in With Purpose and Principle
Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” Martin Luther King,Jr.
Another major challenge is that privileged behavior seems normal to those who exhibit it. Most individuals are usually unaware of the ways in which their sense of entitlement marginalizes others even in spaces where equity is a major goal. Frequently, individuals with educational accomplishments and material resources come to change efforts with expectations of dictating or making major decisions or with ideas about the “right way to do things” because they believe their experiences are more valuable to the process than those with less education and money.
It can be very difficult to get people with privilege to realize that their resources have been acquired through a system that inherently privileges some while marginalizing others. Awareness of these different orientations makes it easier to understand why many change advocates are angry, distrustful and view one another with suspicion and resentment. And though the assumptions, motivations, and objectives of many middle class change agents are sometimes troubling, this is not meant to suggest that they are the only source of confusion and conflict when it comes to class differences. This is also not meant to suggest that those without class privilege are passive and innocent bystanders. As Dr. King pointed out, “nothing in wealth is inherently vicious and nothing in poverty is inherently virtuous.”
As we become a more diverse society, we will have to increase our tolerance and acceptance of difference within our communities in order to build successful alliances across these widening chasms. …
Along with the problems that arise because of economic differences, we oppress and dehumanize one another through sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, ageism, and other oppressions that we perpetrate in our social change circles and in our communities at large. This is an ongoing problem so it should be no surprise that our member base, allies, and potential supporters constantly fall away or vanish. They fall away and vanish when men repeatedly dominate spaces, when straight people alienate G/L/B/T/Q members, when Christians marginalize those who are not Christian, when our young disrespect our elders, when our elders dismiss our youth, and when those with class status marginalize those without economic power, an official title, or a lucrative profession. ..
This tendency is part of a larger mistake many of us continue to make which is attempting to address one form of oppression while ignoring other oppressions and expecting to build a mass, unified movement for justice. … we continuously fail to look at how we too might be oppressive to those around us and those in the struggle with us. We do this because we fail to acknowledge or explore how we might be privileged along lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, etc. …
The fact that oppressions are not only interconnected but overlap and fuel one another is not going away on its own… Therefore, it may be time for us to acknowledge that although we may be oppressed along one social category we can simultaneously be oppressive if we enjoy class, male, Christian, and heterosexual social privilege. We must face the fact that no form of oppression trumps another and that the excuses we use to keep from facing how we oppress others are echoes of the excuses others use as they oppress us. We also might consider that our reluctance to engage and explore our own forms of social privilege might lend important insight into why others are reluctant to look at theirs. In order to change as much as we are asking others to we must explore those uncomfortable places in ourselves and begin to live the insightful adage that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ” And finally, we must develop a new vision that reflects a radical revolution in values.
Excerpt from On The Ground: Struggles and Lessons from Anti-Racism Work
Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.
If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
The mind is not sex-typed.
What is new is not bisexuality, but rather the widening of our awareness and acceptance of human capacities for sexual love.
Knowledge of another culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more livingly, our own.
We end up with the contradictory picture of a society that appears to throw its doors wide open to women, but translates her every step towards success as having been damaging.
We need every human gift and cannot afford to neglect any gift because of artificial barriers of sex or race or class or national origin.
I’ve been representing these kids who have been sentenced to do these very harsh sentences. And I go to the jail and I see my client who’s 13 and 14, and he’s been certified to stand trial as an adult. I start thinking, well, how did that happen? How can a judge turn you into something that you’re not? And the judge has certified him as an adult, but I see this kid.
And I was up too late one night and I starting thinking, well gosh, if the judge can turn you into something that you’re not, the judge must have magic power. Yeah, Bryan, the judge has some magic power. You should ask for some of that. And because I was up too late, wasn’t thinking real straight, I started working on a motion. And I had a client who was 14 years old, a young, poor black kid. And I started working on this motion, and the head of the motion was: “Motion to try my poor, 14-year-old black male client like a privileged, white 75-year-old corporate executive.”
And I put in my motion that there was prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct and judicial misconduct. There was a crazy line in there about how there’s no conduct in this county, it’s all misconduct. And the next morning, I woke up and I thought, now did I dream that crazy motion, or did I actually write it? And to my horror, not only had I written it, but I had sent it to court.
A couple months went by, and I had just forgotten all about it. And I finally … I’ve got to go to the court and do this crazy case. And I got into my car and I was feeling really overwhelmed — overwhelmed. And I got in my car and I went to this courthouse. And I was thinking, this is going to be so difficult, so painful. And I finally got out of the car and I started walking up to the courthouse.
And as I was walking up the steps of this courthouse, there was an older black man who was the janitor in this courthouse. When this man saw me, he came over to me and he said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m a lawyer.” He said, “You’re a lawyer?” I said, “Yes, sir.” And this man came over to me and he hugged me. And he whispered in my ear. He said, “I’m so proud of you.” And I have to tell you, it was energizing. It connected deeply with something in me about identity, about the capacity of every person to contribute to a community, to a perspective that is hopeful.
Well I went into the courtroom. And as soon as I walked inside, the judge saw me coming in. He said, “Mr. Stevenson, did you write this crazy motion?” I said, “Yes, sir. I did.” And we started arguing. And people started coming in because they were just outraged. I had written these crazy things. And police officers were coming in and assistant prosecutors and clerk workers. And before I knew it, the courtroom was filled with people angry that we were talking about race, that we were talking about poverty, that we were talking about inequality.
And out of the corner of my eye, I could see this janitor pacing back and forth. And he kept looking through the window, and he could hear all of this holler. He kept pacing back and forth. And finally, this older black man with this very worried look on his face came into the courtroom and sat down behind me, almost at counsel table. About 10 minutes later the judge said we would take a break. And during the break there was a deputy sheriff who was offended that the janitor had come into court. And this deputy jumped up and he ran over to this older black man. He said, “Jimmy, what are you doing in this courtroom?” And this older black man stood up and he looked at that deputy and he looked at me and he said, “I came into this courtroom to tell this young man, keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”
I’ve come to TED because I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.
Excerpt from Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk We Need to Talk About an Injustice
“The proper person understands equity, the small person understands profits.”