Shifting from Equity-Seeking to Equity-Deserving

Shifting from Equity-Seeking to Equity-Deserving 

By Teresa Smith

Pause for a moment and consider the power of words.

Research participants view a surgical procedure more favourably when it is described as having a “70% success rate” rather than a “30% failure rate”[i].

If you ask a witness how fast two cars were going when they “smashed” rather than “contacted” each other, they will report a much higher speed.[ii]

The words we choose shape the way we think, and the way we think shapes the way we behave.[iii] If we want to be an anti-racist, we need to recognize that our words shape the world we live in. 

Anti-racism work is based on the fundamental belief that all humans deserve equitable treatment. That no matter who you are, you have a right to be treated fairly, without bias. And yet, when we talk about Black, Indigenous, and people of colour, why do we refer to them as “equity-seeking” rather than “equity-deserving”? 

Think about it. To seek something is to ask for something from someone else. And if equity is a right, which it is, no one should be put into the position of having to ask for it. The act of asking for something puts the asker in a vulnerable position. The asker assumes all the risk: the risk of appearing needy and the risk of having to give control over to someone else. And what of the person or group being asked? The “askee” becomes the one with all the power – the power to give, the power to deny, and the power to look the other way.

That is why I support the challenge of Professor Wisdom Tettey, Vice President and Principal of University of Toronto Scarborough. In his 2019 installation address, he calls on us all to change our words and to start thinking of relating to, and referring to, marginalized people(s) as “equity-deserving” rather than “equity-seeking”. 

Reflecting on language is an important aspect of anti-racist work. What words have hurt you or helped you in your life? How do the words you use create or uphold certain relationships, values, or power structures? By making a shift in your words, you can help change how people think and act towards BIPOC members of our community. Equity is something we all deserve.

Want to learn more about how to shift your language? Visit the City of Edmonton’s Inclusive Language Guide and the BCCDC COVID-19 Language Guide.  

Teresa Smith is the Senior Manager, Organizational Development and Employee Experience in KPU’s Human Resources Department. Her work involves building and supporting equitable and inclusive practices that contribute to a healthy and thriving community.




This is the first in several opinion pieces to come. We welcome your thoughts, advice, and unique insights.  

All comments will be moderated. For your comment to be approved and made public, it should respect the dignity of others and meet the standards of KPU policies and collective agreements. Personal attacks or comments which promote hatred or contempt for any social, national, or ethnic group will not be tolerated. 


  1. I agree Teresa and well-stated. I often wonder about the term “marginalized people” as well. Marginalized from where — from the white centre of society? I think that is a problematic term as well as the position of a group is not necessarily relative to the white centre. I recognize that it often IS though – that there are groups who are feeling quite marginalized from the centre but I think that we can maybe do something about the thinking around that by again, changing our words.

  2. The first minute with John Henry Faulk (I think a 1979 interview), for me, encapsulates comments well: Responding to Faulk’s comments on ‘giving’ (rights): “You can’t give me the right to be a human being, I’m born with that right. Now you can keep me from having that if you’ve got all the policemen and all the jobs on your side…” Orwell’s Politics and the English Language came up in a team convo a few days ago and that also seems apposite – ” if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

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