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.
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.
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