The biggest barrier to ending inequity is within those of us who benefit from it.
The education you have access to can dramatically change your life outcomes. If you are poor, marginalised or minortized you are likely to go to an under-resourced school and receive an inadequate education that has not been designed for you to realise your full potential. And so the opportunities for social mobility and social influence are restricted. If you are privileged the opposite is likely to be true. Inequity in education denies some their right to full participation within society, while allowing for the disproportionate participation of others.
Many of us in this work benefit from this inequity, it allows those of us with more power and privilege to continue to participate disproportionately in society and to pass that privilege onto our children. We may have recognised the inherent unfairness in the system and dedicated our lives to ending it, but are we actually prepared to curb our own power and privilege and that of our own children to allow for the equitable participation of all children? This would mean giving up the advantages our children enjoy to ensure fair opportunity for all children. Are we really down with that?
The incentive to maintain our privilege is counterintuitive to our mission. Left unchecked it explicitly or implicitly shapes our thoughts and actions, corrupting our capacity to recognise and act in pursuit of real fairness. It’s not hard to recognise this conflict of interest and yet we find it so hard to acknowledge. Because acknowledging it means asking ourselves if we have what it takes to make true equity a reality. And if not, who does?
Spend enough time thinking about true equity and you will come to realise that it is going to be painful for those of us with privilege. There will be a loss of power and the painful confrontation with our complicity. Who want’s to feel pain, loss, guilt? But look deeper and we will realise that this pain and loss is the path to liberation – not just for those who are harmed by inequity but by those who benefit from it too. Because any dynamic of oppression ultimately dehumanises all who exist within it (even those who oppress) by denying us the opportunity to actualise our full humanity in the creation of a just world. The problem is that no-one wants to feel pain – even when we know it’s necessary. And we live in societies that condition us to seek and hold onto power and privilege, not to give it away. So even when we believe in equity, even when we recognise that our own liberation is tied to the liberation of all, will we be prepared to do whats necessary to make it happen?
For those of us who have and continue to be harmed by inequity, pain is already there. Loss and the suffering is already a daily reality. Ending that pain for yourself, your family, your people is the incentive for change. And that urgency of knowing that ‘the suffering of my people is at stake’ is exactly why those who are harmed by inequity are best qualified to lead the movement to end it. Because only that kind of urgency will be enough to disrupt systems of oppression and create a just world. Only that kind of urgency can hold those with privilege accountable to doing whats necessary. Only that kind of leadership can lead to true equity.
This is why in the context of ending inequity the question of who is leading the process of defining and making change is the fundamental question. And until we answer it, we’re not going to be able to create the world that all our children deserve.