“Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society.”
— James Baldwin
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”
― Audre Lorde
We tend to think that the economic system is not working. But it is often working exactly as designed and intended — to aggregate resources and power in the hands of a few. While inequality within many developed countries has been worsening in recent years, global inequality rates are actually falling. This is good news, but also masks the fact that deep inequalities that have persisted for centuries still linger, as has been made abundantly clear recently following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many others that preceded them.
Equity does not simply mean economic equity, although that is part of it. The term ‘equity’ speaks to something deeper than diversity or inclusion or even every person receiving the same amount of something: it means that every human person has the ability to reach their own potential and is not actively prevented from doing so by systems, paradigms, or processes that exclude and discriminate. It also means acknowledging and reckoning with past wrongs, and taking concrete actions to repair broken relationships and broken promises.
At SheEO, we believe that every person regardless of gender, age, sex, race, class, religion, ethnicity, ability, language, sexual orientation, or gender identity should have the ability to bring their talent, ideas, and creativity to bear in the world. Working towards a world in which discrimination does not exist is not simply wishful thinking, it is a moral and even economic imperative. We will collectively be better off when systems of discrimination are dismantled.
There are many approaches to building equity in the world, but two we’d like to highlight are: Just Transition and Restorative Economics. The concept of a Just Transition was historically developed by trade unions advocating for a movement away from extractive industries that were harming low-income communities of color and instead, moving towards right livelihoods for workers that were also sustainable for the planet. This framework has been adapted and updated by the Climate Justice Alliance which says that Just Transition represents “a host of strategies to transition whole communities to build thriving economies that provide dignified, productive and ecologically sustainable livelihoods; democratic governance and ecological resilience.”
Restorative Economics, a term coined by Nwamaka Agbo, “centers on healing and restoration of vulnerable communities who have been marginalized and oppressed by a polluting and extractive economy, by investing in strategies that create shared prosperity and self-determination for a just transition to the next economy.” This approach focuses on building community wealth, shared governance, and reconnected relationships within communities.
Both of these frameworks speak to the fact that equity involves shifting power and resources, but is also a holistic process that brings us into relationship with one another and the planet in a deeper, richer, and more just way.
At SheEO, we have been working to understand the experiences of our community — many of which are painful stories of historic and present injustice. It can be uncomfortable, particularly for those who have been historically privileged, but we seek this discomfort knowing that it is necessary and ultimately healing.
As Austin Channing Brown says, “Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy…But is this not the work we have been called to anyway?”
We will continue to strive, and fail, as an organization to embed equity in our practices, policies, and structures. But the real work happens in community, in conversations with one another, and in how we show up for one another. You can be part of this transformative work in the world simply by showing up to this community with a humble willingness to learn, a desire to deeply listen to and acknowledge the lived experiences of all, and a commitment to take action on what you learn in the process.
Reflection question: If I have privilege, how can I use it to counter oppression and be a better ally? How can I contribute to dismantling systemic barriers where I work and where I live?
SITE Nwamaka Agbo — Restorative Economics
SITE Just Transition — Climate Justice Alliance
SITE Principles for the Feminine Economy — Jennifer Armbrust
ARTICLE Elinor Ostrom — Governing the Commons
VIDEO The Story We Tell Ourselves About Poverty Isn’t True — Mia Birdsong
BOOK Ibram X. Kendi — How to Be An Antiracist
BOOK FEMINISM: A Key Idea for Business and Society – CV Harquail
ARTICLE Visualizing the Extreme Concentration of Global Wealth — Visual Capitalist article