Equality and equity and EO #13985

Dear President Biden,

We just watched a short clip that Julius Goat posted on Twitter of you talking about the stimulus package and your desire to get ‘er done even without the Republicans. He tagged it with something like “I know what I hate and I don’t hate this,” which, from JG, is high praise for something a politician says. Also, you did a lovely job of conveying an “I get what you’re going through” message. It came through loud and clear that you understand how desperate so many people are and how we need to know that our government is stepping up to help where help is needed. Well done.

And thank you. It’s beyond huge to have someone in charge who radiates decency and care rather than someone who exudes disdain and hostility. 

Over the last several days I’ve been thinking about equality and equity a lot and before I launch in on a mini-treatise about these two concepts, I first want to point out that the decision to aim the COVID relief where it’s needed is a great example of equity in action. I think a sense of fairness and wanting to be seen as treating people equally was probably driving the old plan and while I get the fairness appeal, it’s terrific that you took the equity route.

Have you seen the cartoon by Adam Benza illustrating the difference between equality and equity? It’s super effective. The left hand panel shows three people standing on single boxes at a wooden fence, the other side of which is a baseball game in progress. Two of the people can see over the fence, but the third can’t. The right hand panel shows the same three people with the same fence but the boxes have been redistributed so that the tall person who didn’t need a box is now standing on the ground and the small person who needed more than one box, now has two and can see just fine. I remember that the first time I saw it a nice little warm wave of calm came over me; a kind of “ah, yes!”

Well, the reason for bringing all this up and pointing you to this cartoon is that the language in Executive Order 13985 Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government is fuzzy on the distinction between equality and equity and, for the most part, seems focused on the former. Maybe I’m being overly picky, but while there is an emphasis on underserved communities, much of the wording focuses on ideas like providing “equal access to benefits and opportunities” and “full and equal participation by all eligible individuals” and nothing in particular about making up for historic and systemic oppressions. There’s also a lot of talk about examining existing laws and regulations but not much about empowering underserved communities (let alone providing reparations).

There are also lots of places where the text reads “consistent with applicable law” and this raises some red flags for me since it sounds like anything and everything done under the auspices of this EO will have to pass muster within the constraints of existing applicable law and thus, could very well be dead on arrival. In other words, the existing laws have obviously not done a hot job of promoting racial justice and equity and I’m worried there’s going to be a lot of “well, we tried, but the applicable laws were such that we couldn’t do much of anything.”

I hope I’m wrong.

But I’m very worried. So please keep an eye on this and don’t squander opportunities to make good on your promise of delivering racial equity and support for underserved communities.

May we all be able to trust that our government is prioritizing everyone’s safety.
May we be willing to grapple with the harder row to hoe of equity.
May we be strong enough to do what’s right rather than what sounds good.
May we accept that bipartisanship is not worth continuing to put people’s lives at risk.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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