What is Social Equity? And why it is the foundation for all families to be stable and thriving.

January 8, 2021

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Right now, families across the United States are struggling with the ability to access healthy food, pay their utility bills, continue their education, afford childcare, and receive comprehensive healthcare, etc. These families face some of the worst circumstances in our country, and the odds are stacked against them.

Most families in poverty did not get there simply because of bad choices or unlucky circumstances. It was structures set in place that systematically withheld access to better opportunities for generations, making today’s families continue to face the same lack of access as their ancestors. These structures had racism, classism, and sexism (just to name a few) built-in, and that’s what has continued to hold a large portion of the U.S.’s population from experiencing the fullness of this country.

So, how do we fix this so American families can become stable and thriving? Through social equity as a foundation for change.

What is Social Equity?

No, it’s not financial equity. And it’s not equality, either. Equity is about assessing the needs of people across the nation to provide them access to opportunities for success. Equity is the path to dismantling those systems and structures that continue to hold The United States’ people  from the rights ordained in our Constitution.

Social equity is the foundation for which USI as an organization does its work. So, we define it as:

Social Equity is first addressing the disparities and barriers on individual, systematic, and structural levels, then using this information and data to provide opportunities for success to individuals based on their right of access and specific needs.

Social equity is about flexibility, not equality.

While social equity may seem very similar to equality, it is not the same. Equality typically does not consider the nuances of how structural oppression affects individuals. Instead, it is typically used as a metric or statement to keep things “fair” or “balanced” across the playing field without striving to actually level it.

The statement, “We shall not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation,” that you see on many job applications is one of equality. And it’s a very important one! But it does not promise equity.

Affirmative Action, on the other hand, is a practice rooted in social equity. By understanding how systems have negatively affected certain groups, it ensures access to the same opportunities as individuals who haven’t been affected by those systems. It levels the playing field by lifting up people who may not have been able to reach those opportunities on their own, even with that anti-discrimination statement in place.

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire

Social equity is about being flexible and accommodating to people’s needs based on their intersection of experiences within our society. The place where race, gender, income, sexual orientation, religion, ability, etc. intersect (this is called intersectionality) needs to be understood on an individual basis to truly provide the flexibility that equity needs to uphold. Without this understanding of intersectionality and flexibility, social equity just becomes equality.

Social equity is about access, not outcomes.

When outcomes are prioritized, this weakens equity, because it measures an individual’s success over the success of the entire affected group as a whole.

Underdogs, who have managed to beat all the odds, become centered in the spotlight when outcomes are highlighted. And while amazing for the underdog, they often don’t represent the majority of the group or intersection they’re apart of.

This focus on outcomes also shifts the perspective to the individual’s specific choices, character, or even luck, removing the issues they face systematically. This leaves the onus on the individual to figure it out themselves and find a way through the barriers built specifically against them instead of dismantling those barriers altogether.

Social equity is about destroying oppressive structures by focusing on providing the right of access to opportunities first and foremost.

Social equity is about mutuality, not individuality.

Based on our definition and previous statements, this may seem contradictory to everything we’ve been saying. But what we mean by this is that striving for equity is more than providing just one person with the opportunity to become stable and thriving. Social equity is about creating strong, unifying relationships within the collective society by leveling the playing field.

While yes, the individual’s needs are very important when creating social equity, this foundation is really rooted in lifting up all of society to eventually get to equal ground.

“No American is ever made better off by pulling a fellow American down, and every American is made better off whenever any one of us is made better off. A rising tide raises all boats.” – President John F. Kennedy

Social equity benefits all people within society, not just those whom it is built to serve.

Sustainable structural change must be built on a foundation of social equity.

USI believes that social equity is the foundation for which our work can be done. Without it, we would not be able to provide the services we do for our families to help them achieve the success they do. Here are some points from our equity statement that can better help you understand exactly how we center social equity throughout our work. You can access the full equity statement on our About page.

  • We recognize the legacy of systemic racism and cultural oppression that have long served as barriers to success.
  • We develop real opportunities for success in communities regardless of income, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • We commit to addressing disparities at the individual, systems, and structural levels.
  • We target strategies based on data that addresses the root cause of preventing successful outcomes.

We also suggest signing up for our mailing list to get a deeper dive into how we use our data that’s rooted in social equity, to strive towards our mission to ensure all families are stable and thriving.

Lastly, we want to uplift a few other organizations besides our own that do their work on a foundation of social equity. Please follow and support!

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