Home > Essays > The Misunderstanding of “Equity” is Poisoning Dialogue, Hurting Those Raised in Poverty.

The Misunderstanding of “Equity” is Poisoning Dialogue, Hurting Those Raised in Poverty.

May 19, 2021

The NYTimes had an intriguing and frightening article today about four words in a resolution on unity that ended up dividing a rural county in Wisconsin. The four words? “…a community for all”. Here’s the context:

A standing-room-only crowd packed a drab courthouse meeting room one recent night and tried to resolve a thorny, yearlong debate over whether Marathon County should declare itself “a community for all.”

The lone Black member of the county board, Supervisor William Harris, stood up and begged his colleagues who opposed the resolution to change their minds.

“I want to feel like I’m a part of this community,’’ he said. “That’s what a lot of our residents are saying. We want to contribute to our community. We want to feel like a part of this community.”

But a fellow board member was just as passionate at the meeting on Thursday in arguing that acknowledging racial disparities is itself a form of racism.

The 9% of the county who are Hmong refugees or their descendants and the small number of Blacks in the county wanted to see this language adopted in an aspirational resolution. But fear that this aspiration would provide minorities with an advantage led to its defeat by a 6-2 vote. Here’s the nub of the reasoning that led to the defeat of the resolution:

He (supervisor Arnold Schlei, a 73-year-old retired veal farmer who has been on the county board for 11 years) and others opposing the resolution argued that to acknowledge disparities faced by people of color would tilt social advantages to their benefit. The word “equity,” which was included in the resolution, served as a trigger for many, who made the false claim that memorializing it as a goal would lead to the county’s taking things from white people to give them to people of color.

Those opposed to the resolution made far-reaching claims about its potential impact. The local Republican Party chairman, Jack Hoogendyk, said the resolution would lead to “the end of private property” and “race-based redistribution of wealth.” Others have argued that there is, in fact, no racism in Marathon County, and even if there was, it’s not the county board’s business to do anything about it.

When the aspiration for equity creates fear it becomes difficult to promote ideas like the equity of school funding or equitable opportunity for all children. Equity should be seen through the lens of abundance and not the lens of a zero sum game. The zero sum thinking is the root of our problems. It needs to stop.

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