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One of the oldest tricks in the book of parenting is to put cookies on the top shelf so that your small children can’t reach them. Cookies don’t wind up on the top shelf so that no one eats them. They are there so that the people who were in the house first (the parents) can decide how they are distributed. While children aren’t denied access to cookies, they don’t have the same access adults have. Children live in the same house, eat mostly the same food, and have the same legal rights to stay in the home, but kids don’t have the same cookie privilege that parents do. American history has a similar arrangement.

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If you do the math since 1619 in America there are only 64 of 399 years that black people are granted full legal standing as citizens.

If you do the math since 1619 in America there are only 64 of 399 years that black people are granted full legal standing as citizens.

I felt that bore repeating. For 246 years black people weren’t considered fully human, and then for another 89 years after emancipation, blacks weren’t considered as human as white people. By 1954 white Americans had a 335 year head start on black people in this country. Segregation was declared unconstitutional in 1954, but that declaration by no means put black people on an equal footing with white people. Imagine if tomorrow Congress declared bacon unconstitutional. Would bacon lovers lose their appetite for bacon over night or perhaps ever? I imagine that in 1954 white people who believed they were superior to blacks didn’t change their minds once the government changed it’s position, and many of those people had children and grand children. Those children and grand children grew up to be law makers, business owners, politicians, police officers, CEOs, and POTUS.

Those children and grand children were privy to education, land, business deals, and other opportunities that the newly “enfranchised” black Americans had no access to. About a year ago I sat on vacation listening to black men and women in their sixties talking about the class reunion of their segregated High School in Tennessee. When we talk about America’s history with race, we aren’t talking about a history that is ancient. We’re talking about a history that people still walking around today lived through. We’re also talking about a history that still profoundly affects our present.

In a recent interview Van Jones talked about being the NINTHgeneration of his family, and the first to have full rights in this country. That means Van and others are forging ahead in their lives and careers without the benefit of ancestral succession. It’s estimated that 35 to 45 percent of wealth in America is inherited. Some would argue it’s closer to 50. A study conducted by Stanford Universityfound, in most cases, children’s future income is directly correlated to that of the household they grew up. Needless to say that with the opportunities lost to generations of black people, it is a much more difficult path to career success and independent wealth. It’s far less likely that a black person in America today would be the recipient of family wealth, education, land, or businesses passed down from generations of success. Again, I’ll turn to a man who can articulate what I’m trying to say far better than I can.

Everything great was built on an equally great foundation. We all know that heritage matters, and those who were here before us impact us today, but it seems like when we apply that universal truth to conversations about race, black people are accused of dwelling on the past. I’ve written about that in previous blogs, so I’ll not go into that any further. However, I would like to give you another word picture to help expound on this idea of equal opportunity.

Many of the races at track metes start off staggered to curb the advantage of the runner on the inside lane. It doesn’t look fair to the eye because some runners are so far ahead of the others, but it is the only fair way to start the race. Imagine if a race started without staggering the runners. It would be unrealistic to expect those in the outside lanes to keep up and compete with the people who had been granted the advantage of the inside lanes. If the runners on the inside lanes recognized mid race that they were given an advantage, how would they feel? They could feel guilty. They could feel like they didn’t do anything wrong. They could look down on the runners behind them and consider themselves better. They are winning, and they aren’t winning because they are cheaters or bad people. They are at the front of the pack due to a mix of their effort and the way the race was set up.

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It would help us all to consider how the “race” started in America, and what we can do now that the race is underway to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to win. Even in a competition the thrill of being the champion is rooted in the fact that the other competitor had an equal opportunity to win.

In America we talk a lot about equality, but maybe we should start talking more about equity. What does it look like to truly give equal opportunities to blacks and other POC in this country? I recently witnessed a white man grumble about being passed over for a job because the business he was applying to work for needed to fill a quota of minorities. That doesn’t seem “fair”, but it is a practice that is birthed out of the idea of equity. Practices like that are flawed. They can certainly be improved for sure, but let’s not lose sight that the idea that drives them is sound. We as a people have a responsibility to do what we can to right the wrongs of our history. I’ve heard great leaders say: “it may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.”

If you were to apply for a home loan, a car loan, a small business loan, or a job, you’re likely to discover that you’ll need approval from a white man or a group of white men to get what you’re reaching for. It’s entirely conceivable that a white person could go their entire life and never have to go to a POC for approval to move forward in their career or life plans. Of course, every American has access to equal, legal rights and freedoms, just as children have access to the kitchen and probably the pantry.

I’m not comparing black people to children in terms of maturity, intelligence, or ability. However, I am in relation to American history. America has kept her cookies on the top shelf throughout history, and white people have been reaching up and taking as many as they want. It’s time that we bring those cookies down where everyone can reach them. That is what equal opportunity looks like.

Are there real life scenarios in which you’ve seen equality vs equity play out?

What are ways that we can ensure that every American truly does have equal opportunity?

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