Youngkin’s crusade against equity hurts white people too

The word “equity” might as well be banned in Virginia. Since taking office this year, governor Glenn Youngkin (R) has been off to a fast start, working overtime to fulfill his campaign promise to eliminate teaching about racism from Virginia schools. One of his earliest moves in office was to remove the word from the state’s office of “diversity, equity and inclusion” substituting “opportunity” instead. When the attempt was rejected by the legislature, the governor’s office changed it anyway. Last week, he battled with school superintendents across the state after they criticized his decision to end all equity initiatives in Virginia schools. 

Youngkin’s crusade against the word may seem symbolic, but it represents a major fault line in American politics and offers a preview of what’s to come ahead of midterm elections. As efforts to make the United States a more equitable nation continue, the GOP is returning to their tried and true strategy of casting white people as the real victims of racism. 

But right-wing rhetoric that depicts “equity” as divisive evades a simple truth: Rooting out systemic racism is beneficial to white people too. 

Contrary to claims that the movement for equity is hateful, decades of research have made it abundantly clear: Policies designed to improve living conditions for the vulnerable benefit all people, regardless of race. Take a look at the accomplishments of the equity movement in recent decades and you’ll see a story of win-win achievements, not zero-sum outcomes. Just like a rising tide lifts all boats, ending structural inequality benefits everyone.  

The Affordable Care Act, for example, allowed 20 million additional Americans to obtain health insurance. All racial and ethnic groups saw gains in terms of insurance coverage, and racial disparities in coverage narrowed. Or consider the safety net. Despite claims that expanding these critical programs provide “handouts” to people of color, working-class white people are the biggest beneficiaries. Measures to help disabled people have also benefited the wider community. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 led to the “curb cuts” now common on street corners, used by people in wheelchairs, parents pushing baby strollers, children riding bikes, travelers rolling suitcases and delivery workers wheeling hand-trucks.

While millions of Americans have benefitted from these equity-minded policies, and an overwhelming majority of people in this country agree that racism is still a problem today, the GOP and its operatives continue to manufacture outrage about the false problem of critical race theory in schools as part of their direct response to 2020’s historic uprisings for racial justice. 

Call it what you want but let’s be clear, without equity, there will be limited opportunity for the nearly 100 million people struggling to make ends meet in America — of whom, 46 million are white. But we who are fighting for equity will not work in the shadows or be burdened with Republicans’ cross of exclusion.

That burden, and the way it kindles fear and anger and tortured logic, rests squarely on the shoulders of those who resist a fairer America. We know that our pursuit to design and build a society rooted in equity, in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential, is the best path forward –– for everyone. 

Michael McAfee, Ed.D., is the president and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity. 

Tags Critical race theory Equity Glenn Youngkin Glenn Youngkin Institutional abuse Institutional racism race and society Racism

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