Equity vs. Equality, and Why African Americans Deserve Both

Posted by Nailah Herbert in Black EconomicsNovember 22, 2021(Last Updated July 25, 2022)4 min read
Key Takeaways
  • The 13th amendment abolished slavery in 1865, but African Americans are still fighting to be heard in their quest for equal status, rights, and opportunities related to their white counterparts.
  • The murder of George Floyd in 2020 has sparked nationwide debates on the constant police brutality against African Americans and why African Americans have yet to be treated equally. 
  • Although African Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have been treated unjustly at the hands of police officers, the nationwide protests have sparked a different debate about how African Americans deserve equality and equity.
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In 2020, the nationwide protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd stirred up countless debates on why African Americans have yet to receive equality and may still have a long way to go to receive equity. Although the two words sound similar, there is a significant difference. 


In short, equality means everyone should have equal access, status, rights, and opportunities. Equity acknowledges that each person has different circumstances (environmental, school, etc.) and offers the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. 


It is critical to know the difference between these two words as well as understand why systemic oppression has become a vice that has held African Americans back for centuries. 


Lack of Equality for African Americans


Since 1619, when Africans were first enslaved and brought to America, African Americans have been treated unequally and unjustly by white Americans. Although the 13th amendment abolished slavery in 1865, Black people still have had to fight to be heard in their quest for equal status, rights, and opportunities with their white counterparts. 


More than 100 years after slavery was abolished, the United States (U.S.) Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1968. This act was the result of a decade's long fight for equality spearheaded by the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, even though slavery has been abolished and the civil rights act has been passed, African Americans are still limited by a carefully designed system to keep them at the bottom of every totem pole, including economic and social status. 


Although U.S. laws were passed to treat African Americans equally (and are still being passed to ensure fairness among Black people), there is still a massive hill to climb to receive true equality and, ultimately, equity. 


There is no veil to mask that African Americans are treated differently in almost every circumstance of their lives. Whether at school, within the healthcare and justice system, shopping for groceries, or even jogging in a certain neighborhood.


A 2019 study displayed that an algorithm used in most U.S. hospitals is discriminatory towards African Americans, resulting in African Americans being referred less to health improvement programs than their white counterparts. 


The lack of resources that African Americans have to help them receive a similar level of care is concerning, as those who work in a hospital took the Hippocratic Oath. This oath states that healthcare providers must take care of their patients to the best of their ability and “to do no harm or injustice to them.”


Equity for African Americans 


African Americans must continue to fight for equality, but the fight for equity is just as important. In the U.S. today, the average Black household has 60 percent of the average White household income and only one-tenth of the wealth of the white household. As we know, wealth helps send children to school, start small businesses, and stabilize loss of income. The number one source for inner generational wealth in the U.S. today is homeownership. 


Image Credit: Batshevs / Shutterstock.com


From 1930 to the late 1960s, the Federal Government enacted policies to encourage White families to own homes which discouraged Black families from doing the same. For example, in 1934, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) created a risk rating system to determine which neighborhoods were safe for federally backed mortgages. As a result, Black neighborhoods were labeled as “too risky,” which resulted in African Americans being denied equal opportunity. 


They were marked in red ink on maps, a practice now known as redlining. The FHA funded huge suburban White-only neighborhoods, leaving Blacks in the inner city, negatively affecting African American life. Blacks could not live in White neighborhoods and could not get federally insured loans for Black neighborhoods. 


Recommended Read: The History of Redlining, and Its Lasting Effect on Black Americans Today


In 1948, 40 percent of new housing developments in Minneapolis, Minnesota had covenants prohibiting purchases by African-Americans. In addition, until 1950, the Realtor Code of Ethics prohibited selling a home in a White neighborhood to a non-white family. The consequence of violating that code would be losing your real estate license. 


The African-American community has been under attack and underserved in many ways. The U.S. (local and national) system has enacted laws and policies hindering the progress of African Americans and the opportunity for equal outcomes. A new system must be implemented in the U.S. on the local and national levels to ensure African-Americans’ equity to level the playing field.


The lack of racial and social justice has followed Black people for far too long. What has happened in the past cannot be altered; however, the future can be, and the best way to do so is by learning all the facts to ensure history does not repeat itself. 


In Washington D.C., the Museum of African American History and Culture focuses exclusively on Black history. However, by visiting and understanding the difficulties that African Americans have endured and overcome, it becomes necessary to fight for racial justice to ensure that African Americans are treated equally and with equality. 


What are your thoughts on the state of equality and equity for African Americans? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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