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Is Equality A Pipe Dream?: Understanding what it really means to fight for equality


My entire life, I’ve heard a chorus of well-meaning people fighting for a world of equality.

Post George Floyd, we saw the term on the back of college football helmets. On NBA jerseys. On flags.

People brought equality signs to protests.

Shutterstock/John Gomez

Dr. King himself is well-known for speaking about equality:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

But what would that mean? For everyone to truly be equal.

We know every one of us is born with unique talents, strengths, weaknesses and challenges.

Some are naturally good at math. Some people have a knack for artistic expression. Some people don’t have to take music lessons to become rock stars. Elton John. David Bowie. Prince. Louis Armstrong.

Others pick up sports easier than others. Some people are born with bigger frames. Some smaller. People with tall ancestors tend to produce taller children.

My own three children don’t resemble each other in their talents. While each thankfully does well in school, one is highly intellectual and has been since he was a toddler. One is naturally affectionate and has been since he was born. Another has always had a deep sense of humor and wit. One of my kids is naturally athletic. One can memorize anything. If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about.

They not only aren’t equal — except in how much I love and adore them — they are wildly different.

Since we know society isn’t equal in our proclivities and strengths, how would we ever achieve an equality where we all basically get the same lot?

Should everyone get the same size home? The same cars? The same amount in our bank accounts? Should we all go to Harvard?

Unless you’re a communist (and we know how well that’s worked out in North Korea, U.S.S.R. and other places), we must admit to ourselves that there’s no such thing as equality.

If we know we can’t be at this level of equality, why do we keep trying to achieve the impossible? Why keep spinning our wheels?

Let’s dive deeper and instead talk about something called equity.

So there are natural talents and gifts we’re all born with. We can’t nor should try to equalize those. Got it.

On top of our talents, there are resources, opportunities, family dynamics, and education some get, and some do not. There are kids who never got to have a good math teacher. Others who never had the money to take music lessons because of generations of poverty. Some who go to schools where art budgets were slashed. Others who aren’t given good modeling at home to excel.

Add on to that the impact on Black people of systemic racism in so virtually every aspect of life, from our criminal justice system to education, housing, access to affordable, nutritious food, and environmental issues, and the opportunities can be a bit lopsided for white folks. Okay, a lot lopsided.

The so-called race to success, then, has similarly situated or talented people who are starting from a different position. It’s not just about letting the best talents win. It’s not about “work hard and play by the rules” and all will be okay.

It’s about people with similar natural talents never having the same chance to reach the finish line.

Even worse, it’s about so many people never getting to discover or develop their talents in the first place.

These are the things equity is all about.

We can’t be equal when too many of our Black brothers and sisters are forced to spend much of their time and energy on confronting unjust, structurally defective racist systems while the rest of us get to focus on ourselves.

When we talk about equality, then, what we really mean is equity and opportunity. To ensure that Black people have the same opportunity to develop into the beautiful people they were born as.

That can only happen by eradicating unjust systems and adding fair paths for success so Black and white people get to start the game of life without race-based stumbling blocks put in front of them.

Written by:

Jeffrey Kass


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