Apples and Equity

Listening to Biden’s inaugural address, I was struck by his mentions of racial justice. I’m not a fan of the word “justice,” used too often to promote whatever outcome someone preferred. It was the go-to word for why convicted killers had to be executed. It was “justice,” we were told. But pairing the word with “racial” confused me even more. I keep hearing the phrase, but I don’t know what it means. It sounds good, but it doesn’t tell me anything.

In his inauguration speech, the president pledged to defeat “white supremacy,” using a burst of executive orders on Day 1 to declare that “advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our government.”

The phrase “white supremacy” used to mean something. It meant something bad, awful. But then Jamaal Bowman, congressman from New York for the past couple weeks, confused me.

So Tuesday is a pillar of white supremacy if you string the words together, or is it just thrown in whenever there’s something you want to get rid of? Or the newest member of the Squad, the token male, just makes stuff up? Maybe it’s because he’s kinda dumb. Maybe it’s because he believes his tribe is dumb. Maybe both. But now I no longer know what he’s talking about. Then again, he’s not the president, so his words aren’t that important. Back to Joe.

“advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our government.”

Biden lists four things in a series:

  • Equity
  • Civil Rights
  • Racial Justice
  • Equal Opportunity

If it was necessary to express each of these things separately, each must be different. Two of these words are familiar, both from usage and law. Civil rights is a catch-all phrase used to describe the bundle of individual rights of all Americans protected by law. Equal opportunity is one of the rights within the bundle, which prohibits discrimination that places a detriment or allows a burden upon an individual based upon a protected classification.

This last part of that sentence is important: not all discrimination is unlawful, and most of it is commonplace, widespread and entirely permissible. We discriminate against three-year-olds by not letting them drive, drink whisky or serve as president. We discriminate against the intellectually challenged by not allowing them licenses to perform brain surgery. You get the point.

Then there’s the word “equity” in there, which is distinguished from equality as being outcome as opposed to opportunity. The premise is that since there are no innate differences between people of different races, genders, etc., the outcomes must reflect their demographics. On the back end, this could be the manifestation of “Harrison Bergeron.” On the front end, this could be the deprivation of inputs, such as funding education, decent housing and food, health care, that enable a person to become all he could be.

This is complicated by cultural factors, like bourgeois values of hard work, education, avoiding drugs, crime, violence, and even disfavored values like the ability to write and speak standard English, which is considered racist in its denial of African American Vernacular English as a stand-alone legitimate language. Or the ability to do math, which has objectively correct answers, such as 2+2=4 in the second grade curriculum, which is now subject to debate.

Which of these things is President Biden emphasizing? Some are anodyne, at least among most Americans. We favor equal opportunity. We favor civil rights. We find racial and sexual discrimination anathema and want to eradicate it, and we want to provide every child with the opportunity to make the most of his or her life possible. What’s the problem, then?

The paradox, of course, is that to achieve “equity” you have to first take away equality for individuals who were born in the wrong identity group. Equity means treating individuals unequally so that groups are equal.

This paradox is often covered up by cute analogies or cartoon images of what is meant, the objective being to paint them as good or bad. An example of an analogy is “But we can’t take chains off a person in the middle of a race and expect it to be fair.” There there’s this visual representation:

Whether this is what Biden is talking about is unclear. At the moment, they’re just words which seem to bend in the wind. What matters is what he does with those words, as they may well be in conflict, contradictory, if equity means that equality is denied. While he strung those four words and phrases together as if they each represent a cognizable goal, Biden offered no clue what he was talking about. Was he saying that his administration would refuse to protect and defend the Constitution like his predecessor, just from the other side?

And those policies are obviously unconstitutional. The federal government cannot actively discriminate on the basis of race, sex or group identity under the Constitution. It cannot strip women of their rights as a distinct biological class. It cannot void religious freedom for individuals. Biden’s woke rampage in the federal government won’t last, because it cannot last if our constitution means anything. So let the lawsuits commence as Biden alienates and inflames his moderate supporters and snubs practices that most Americans take as common sense.

Biden has tapped Susan Rice to “embed” racial justice into everything his administration does.

Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, who is leading Mr. Biden’s Domestic Policy Council, is charged with ensuring that the new administration embeds issues of racial equity into everything it does. In an interview, she rejected the idea that doing so is a “zero-sum game” that benefited some groups of Americans at the expense of others.

Rice can say so, but that doesn’t make it so. There are only so many seats in a Harvard classroom, so many corner offices and so many presidents. Sure, in America, anyone can grow up to be president. Everyone cannot. Biden says he’s all for civil rights and equal opportunity. Biden also says he’s for equity and racial justice. Biden needs to define his words.

18 thoughts on “Apples and Equity

  1. Richard Kopf


    Thought experiment with the cartoon in your post:

    In the second box, and regarding the figure standing on two boxes, if you change the color of that figure to white, but leave the other figures black or brown, is the result equity, equality or white supremacy?

    All the best.

  2. Andrew

    Then again, if you look at the cartoon , you’ll notice that the people experiencing equality or equity haven’t paid to watch the game, or they’d be in the stands.

  3. Jardinero1

    Where there is lip service, there is little action. My inference is that this administration will do the bare minimum to achieve these goals, whatever they mean. It is like a magician’s sleight of hand. He waves one hand around to distract you from what other hand is doing. The question arises, what policy agenda is the Biden administration distracting us from?

    1. SHG Post author

      Does you have the magical ability to see into the future (which I do not), what difference does your “inference” make? What will be will be.

  4. KeyserSoze

    Seneca once wrote that all men are unequal from the time they are born. Some are born into fortune and power, others to poverty. Some men are stronger, others are weaker. Some have talent, others do not.

    We are equal in the eyes of God and before the law. Otherwise you are born unequal, you will die unequal.

    Your last paragraph is dead on.

  5. Rengit

    There’s another simplistic comic going around to demonstrate what equity is about, maybe you’ve seen it, where a guy in a suit at a desk says to a menagerie of animals, a fish, an elephant, a horse, a monkey, and others, that he is giving a neutral test for a position, and that the one who climbs the tree the fastest is the one who gets the position, and they all have equal opportunity to prove their mettle by climbing the tree. It is presented as farcical that this test is actually “neutral” or provides “equal opportunity.” We’re to believe that equity is required to remedy each animal’s ability to achieve success on the test.

    But what if the position really *does*require climbing trees fast?

    1. SHG Post author

      All the comics, slogans and cute analogies exist to demonstrate a point. None, unfortunately, provide a comprehensive definition that can be understood in all circumstances such that a reasoned decision can be made. In employment discrimination law, there is a concept called “disparate impact,” which creates a rebuttable presumption of different outcomes as evidence of discrimination. In other words, maybe there is discrimination, but maybe there’s not. It raises the question, but leaves room for the answer.

  6. B. McLeod

    Biden doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His various appointees will pen and phone in the details within the bounds of their respective fiefdoms. The meanings will be operationally defined by whatever administrative interpretations come to be implemented. Basically, we can expect to see all the pre-Trump policies resurrected and pushed on along.

  7. Morgan O.

    I think the equity/equality split gets even more complicated because people don’t agree on what opportunity is, and even more so on outcome. I’d suggest the core example is “have the job” vs “do the job”. I think a lot of the equity shenanigans come from refusing to acknowledge jobs exist to have people perform useful tasks for which they are compensated, and not just drop zones for money.

  8. Curtis

    My daughter’s new principal sent me a version of this at the same time they pulled the educational crate out from under her in math class. Teaching the tall kids was an “an inappropriate use of resources.” That was the new principal’s mantra as she quickly turned the best math school in the district (fewest kids failing and most excelling) to a mediocrity for all.

  9. B. McLeod

    Based on the Tuesday coverage touting his executive orders, it appears Biden’s concept of “racial equity” is better prisons. He is going to nix renewal of DOJ’s contracts with private prisons so the nation’s inmates can enjoy proper, governmentally run prisons. So there it is. Don’t say he never does anything for the marginalized.

    1. SHG Post author

      He’s got another racial equity EO coming out later today. I’m curious whether Biden will define his language or just gloss over it and leave it to undersecretaries to define.

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