How I accidentally taught white supremacy in a feminism session

Well. I’ve just found out I accidentally helped ingrain some white supremacy last week. As someone who’s really passionate about social justice causes, that’s kind of hard to swallow.

I came across an article today, by the Equity in Education Coalition, arguing that a well known picture explaining the difference between Equality and Equity is actually a textbook example of White Supremacy at work.

Three people (one tall, one medium height, one short) stand on boxes along a fence. In the first half, they all have one box. The two tallest can see over the fence, the shortest cannot. In the second half, the tall person has no box, the medium height person has one box and the shortest person has two boxes. All three people can now see over the fence.

You think you’re teaching the difference between equality and equity, but no. You are actually teaching white supremacy.

The article argues that this image positions the people who might need more to succeed in a given environment, as the problem. The people are the underlying problem in the image. When of course, in reality the environment is the problem. I recommend you take a few minutes and read the whole article.

Last week, I was part of a panel in a session where we used that very image.

Through msRuptNow, Jen Love, Beth Ann Locke, Mimosa Kabir and I hosted a panel on feminism and fundraising at AFP Congress Toronto (a Fundraising conference). We highlighted this explanation, albeit with a third panel explaining how we need to get from equity to justice – by removing the barriers that makes equity measures necessary in the first place.

Three sections: 1st section, over the word «equality», has three people of different height standing on boxes, attempting to look over a fence. They all stand on a box, the two tallest can see over the fence, the shortest cannot. 2nd section, over the word «equity»: The tallest now has no box, the middle height person has one box and the shortest person has two boxes. All three can see over the fence. 3rd section, over the word «justice»: No persons have boxes. The fence is replaced by a see-through barrier. All three can see through the fence with no help.

What we thought we were teaching: Equality and Equity are yesterday’s solutions – it’s time to move on to Justice (removing the barriers to let everyone have an equal view.
📸Background football photo: flickr.com/itmn CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Not for a second did occur to any of us that we were, in fact, teaching white supremacy.

My first reaction when I started reading the article was «Oh come the fuck on, is THIS racist too now??». Yes, I admit it – my first reaction was «Angry White Person doesn’t want ‘The Race Card’ to be pulled because it makes ME look bad and I’m a Good Woke Person.»

My second reaction was «Yep, no, 100% – this image is totally rooted in white supremacy and it should never be used again».

Part of what’s hard about trying to work for equality equity justice, is constantly realising how much bias each of us carries (racism, sexism, ageism, ableism and a ton of other -isms) – including those of us who sometimes teach or try to lead conversations on the topic. And resisting our very human impulses to reject something that challenges our view of ourselves as a ‘Good Person’, and accept that we were wrong. To listen, rather than defend. To change, rather than dig in.

Because when we do take the time to listen, our world view changes and it becomes glaringly obvious that an image I thought explained how everyone needs different solutions in an equitable world, actually says that everyone who is different (to a white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, middle aged man) is problematic and in need of special solutions.

I’m constantly learning and un-learning. Thank you to EquiTEA for taking the time to point this out.

Three sections: 1st section, over the word «equality», has three people of the same height attempting to look over a fence. The ground under them is un-equal, it slopes down for two of the people. They are all standing on a box. The two tallest can see over the fence, the shortest cannot, because the ground slopes too much. 2nd section, over the word «equity»: The tallest now has no box, the middle height person has one box and the shortest person has two boxes. All three can see over the fence. 3rd section, over the word «justice»: No persons have boxes. The ground has been evened out under their feet. All three can see over the fence.

What we’ll be using going forward: An image where we have moved the problem away from the person, and onto the ground they’re standing on. The environment is the problem; not the people.
📸Background football photo: flickr.com/itmn CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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