Equality and Equity: Seemingly Similar, Surprisingly Different


Cassidy Meehan, The Pulse and Social Justice Editor

In order to be informed and active members of society, it is important to understand the difference between equality and equity — two words which sound similar yet have differing meanings.


Defining Equality and Equity 

Equality is the state of being equal in resources, while equity is the state of being equal in opportunity. These two terms are commonly, but mistakenly, used interchangeably. By having a greater understanding of the difference between equality and equity, communication regarding controversial topics can improve. 


Equality and Equity in American History 

Equality — a word most, if not all, Americans are familiar with — has been commonly used since the fight against racial injustice began. During the Civil War Era, Americans advocated for racial equality, promoting the concept that all people, no matter their race, must be valued equally. This led to slavery being defined as inhumane and unjust.


Steps towards equality were made with the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. White and black Americans thereafter had equal citizenship and voting rights, establishing a sense of equality. However, there was still a lack of equity, or equal opportunity, as voting was still not nearly as accessible for African Americans as it was for white Americans. 


Specifically in Southern America, poll taxes and literacy tests were required in order to register to vote, targeting African Americans as they were still navigating their freedoms, looking for housing and employment. Some did not yet have the means to spend money on the poll taxes or the time to enroll in literacy classes. These circumstances were inequitable as opportunities were withheld from African Americans. 


With the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the government aimed to outlaw discriminatory voting practices. This established a sense of equity as all Americans were granted the opportunity to vote; very different from establishing a sense of equality, which only encompasses the granting of equal resources.


Equality and Equity in Present-Day America

Presently, equality and equity are terms used in the context of racial, religious, gender, and educational injustices. Some present day organizations that strive to achieve such equity and equality include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Anti Defamation League (ADL), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 


While some beg to differ, racial inequity is an ongoing and systematic issue in our country. The NAACP explains “The criminal justice system is heavily impacted by the bias of police mentality, as well as outdated judicial precedents.” They also provide the public with certain statistics, stating “A Black man is 5 times more likely to be stopped without just cause than a white person.”


The NAACP has made many efforts to achieve racial equity and equality. The organization consists of over 2 million “activists across the country [who] are fighting for civil rights and social justice.” This fight includes petitions, peaceful protests, and the creation of youth programs in order to ensure the advocacy for civil rights exists as a multigenerational effort. 


NAACP Efforts towards Equality and Equity 

The NAACP has made efforts for equity and equality through their promotion of gun safety. They explain that “African-Americans suffer disproportionately from gun violence in the United States,” and “are 14 times more likely to be killed with guns than whites.” 


Reform of the Victims of Crime Act is also an effort supported by the NAACP, “to ensure equal access to benefits without discrimination to families in communities with higher than average rates of homicide,” which tends to target communities of lower socioeconomic stance. Equal access to benefits is an example of the promotion of equal access of resources, or, equality


In terms of equity, efforts must be made to decrease the rates of homicide in these communities in order to make those of different socioeconomic stances equal in opportunity. The rate of homicide in a community can also be removed as a deciding factor when benefits are being granted. By making an effort as a society to achieve this, those once at a disadvantage to receive benefits are now eligible. 


The NAACP has made additional efforts towards equity through their advocacy for equal resources and opportunity in public education. They explain that “There is presently no entity effectively requiring federal and state legislatures and school boards to ensure that students have available to them the necessary and equitable resources in order to hold them accountable in the classroom.”


To Conclude…

As we have seen throughout our history and presently, equality and equity are two different concepts which are equally important to understand, differentiate, and achieve in order to grow as a society.