Equity—Not Equality—In a Post-Coronavirus America

“It’s just not fair.”

You don’t hear that only from your kids. It comes from adult friends and family, too. We all seem committed to a level of fairness that, well, just isn’t fair… not really.

I write this Daughters of the Dream blog as my way of revealing racial truths, at least racial realities, as I see them. These “truths,” like the myth of fairness, might be overlooked if not pointed out.

The current situation with coronavirus offers many stark examples of these “truths” covered by a veneer of fairness. I will look at just two: health care and economic viability. Just a 4 minute read. Then let me know — any “aha” moments or did reading it prompt a different/expanded perspective?

Many have said that COVID-19 shows no preference for race, gender, or income status. All—any of us—can get it. Well, that’s true, and by that measure, it is fair. However, we now see that susceptibility to the disease and treatment for the disease really is not.

Headlines reveal that race-specific data isn’t always collected. But when it is, it shows more African Americans are dying from the disease. Race-based treatment of African-Americans in the health care system and more deadly outcomes isn’t new. Stories from slavery reveal experimentation on humans that rivals Josef Mengele in Nazi prison camps. In the 1930s, African-American men in Alabama thought they were part of a research project to determine the impact of different treatments for syphilis. But their disease went untreated, and the test continued for decades. Most will know the name of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells, taken without her permission in the 1950s, form the basis of many medical breakthroughs and treatments today. But few will know the name of Sterling Matthews. A 60-year-old diabetic, cancer survivor, told in late March 2020 he had pneumonia and sent home by a suburban hospital in my hometown, Richmond, VA. He died a few days later after finally being diagnosed with coronavirus.

Our pain thresholds are perceived as higher, and the value of our lives seems to be lower. This isn’t just historical. It’s not in the past, it’s ongoing. This is now. Is it fair? No.

The perception is the disease affects all equally, but that isn’t true. African-Americans are more susceptible because of a higher incidence than their white counterparts of asthma, hypertension/heart disease, and diabetes, the main conditions that the World Health Organization state place a person at highest risk for coronavirus.

It’s. Just. Not. Fair.

Stimulus checks. Everyone with an individual income of less than $75,000 will get $1200 in the next few weeks. On the surface, this appears fair, right? Everyone is getting the same amount. No money to the rich. Good. This makes sense.

EqualityEquityIf you have a regular job with the State of Virginia, your paycheck has continued during this crisis. Now you are also getting $1200. Fair? What if you are a self-employed hairstylist paid based on customers coming into that now-closed shop? Or a restaurant wait-staff employee who must survive from tips no longer coming in? All making less than $75,000/year. Fair?

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), there is a considerable racial distinction in who earns what they call poverty wages, hourly wages that would place a person below the federal poverty line if he/she were the sole wage earner for the family. 2017 data shows that African American workers are 1.5 times more likely to be earning what EPI refers to as poverty wages than their white counterparts. LatinX workers are 1.8 times more likely than whites to be earning poverty wages.

So, is the blanket provision of $1200 to all with incomes under $75,000 fair? No, it is equal.

It’s. Just. Not. Fair.

According to many surveys of American values, equality is second only to individualism as what defines us as Americans. That needs to change. Equity, not equality, must become the new watchword for America. We must realize that we aren’t all starting in the same place. One size does not—and never has—fit all.

We now have the opportunity to reshape our country in so many ways. Coronavirus has placed us on pause. What can we do in the post-COVID-19 America that will help to address some of the inequities that exist?

I wish I had answers and not just some insights and a few questions. I know the individualism that America celebrates, that pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality, isn’t true. Everyone who has achieved a level of success has had help. Sometimes for a single generation, but it is often multi-generational support that has bolstered a family. America must become more focused on helping those who haven’t had the opportunities or who haven’t been able to avail themselves of those opportunities. The solutions are out there. Probably—hopefully—developing in the minds of those with a much higher pay grade than mine. It will take the collective thinking of economists, educators, social scientists, community organizers, and working folks to define the problems and the barriers fully and then craft a new America. It can be done.

The. Time. Is. Now.


13 Replies to “Equity—Not Equality—In a Post-Coronavirus America”

  1. The former executive director of United Way of Roanoke Valley explained that the original meaning of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was the opposite of the way most people interpret it today. Originally, it meant the same thing as “fly to the moon” or other similar adages that identify an impossibility. Now it’s, “We’re all equal, so everyone has the same shot at success. Affirmative action is no longer needed, if it ever was.” One more familiar axiom: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

  2. An elegant description of the difference between “equality” and “equity” – “fair is not one size fits all.” (As a sometimes painful personal exercise in this, I raised twin daughters and cannot tell you the number of times I have said “‘fair’ doesn’t always mean ‘same'”!)

    Thank you Tamara for elevating our consciousness as always, and for pointing out the obvious – that this virus affects all bodies but not all peoples the same and it is showing us an x-ray of the broken health and healthcare system for the poor and communities of color who will be hardest hit.

  3. Our country seems so broken. I hope we have the collective wisdom and inspired leadership to make the most of this opportunity to address problems we all (well, many) have known existed. We need to go beyond knowing to doing.

    1. Thanks, Janet. It is absolutely time for “doing.” My fear is that the doing might be superficial. Like the food apartheid/deserts that I discussed a couple of weeks ago. The response could be fresh vegetable trucks, plots of land to grow vegetables, etc. Those would be important interventions for health, but to address racism, the bigger question is what causes Harris Teeter, Publix, Safeway, Whole Foods, etc. not to build in neighborhoods of color? How do we incentivize or penalize to create an environment in which all have access to quality grocery stores?

  4. Tamara as always you shake our tree with hard core reality. Thank you for that. I too loved the illustration of equality/equity!! Really hit home

  5. as part of the new normal and the gradual recovery of our local, regional , state and national economy and the notion that all boats rise as the tide rolls in should be rethought . this is a good time to look at all econ and individual sectors and how the workforce and earnings needs to be part of the recovery discussion otherwise we will be unprepared/incapable of solving current econ disconnect problems and abject poverty and racial /sexual divides and inequality and equity. The pandemic should be a rallying cry for bold new initiatives and solutions to eons of workforce and economic problems that C-19 only exacerbated , didnt really create. State, regional and local collaboration and recovery planning cant wait on the do nothing /ineffectual federal gov and the current self centered and ostrich like admin at1600PA ave. Carpe Diem !

  6. I’m passionate about removing systems that marginalize people, yet you powerfully pointed out something and likely others completely missed… “So, is the blanket provision of $1200 to all with incomes under $75,000 fair? No, it is equal. It’s. Just. Not. Fair.” Thank you

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