In our reading of King (1964) this morning, King was arguing not simply for justice but for additional support to give the African Americans the opportunity to gain equality. In effect, he is arguing that it is not equality unless you have equality of outcomes. Simply removing desegregation was not going to give justice unless the African Americans had the opportunity to take advantage of the new opportunities. Is it justice that you can go into a lunch bar and sit with white people if you cannot afford to buy a lunch? Is it justice if you can apply for jobs but you will not get them because you have not had the educational opportunities to gain the qualifications required? Is it justice if you have the qualifications and skills but you cannot get the position because the focus of your qualifications or skills does not match with the dominant framing story of society or the institutions that would normally employ you?
King was fighting for civil rights but he recognised that it was not simply the African Americans who were disadvantaged by the nature of capitalism. The poor whites suffered from the same disadvantages that segregation caused for the African American. He therefore argues that a bill of rights for the disadvantaged should not simply be for African Americans but should be for all disadvantaged people.
I see King’s argument as promoting the different between the argument for equality of opportunity or what I refer to as equality of outcome (equity). Equality of opportunity simply says anyone has the opportunity to participate but it does not take into consideration the disadvantages that some people have that actually hinders there ability to take those equality of opportunity. Equity recognises the those disadvantages and endeavours to overcome them so that all have the same outcome. An example of equity is were you have different height people and seeking to look over a fence. Giving them the same height box is equality but if those boxes do not allow all to see over the fence then there is no equality of outcome. If instead, they are given different height boxes to ensure that they all have the same view then you have equality of outcome or equity.
Some would contend that equity exists in our society but I see on a daily basis how some are disadvantaged because of attitudes of others or the competitive nature of funding gives advantages to others. If what you seek to achieve does not match the dominant themes then you are not likely to have the opportunities given to you. If the roles that you are able to obtain do not enable you to take opportunities to advance then you simply become enslaved to the system. Our society tends to reward those who already have the advantage and to restrict the opportunities for those who are disadvantaged.
I see the UK education system as failing to provide equity. It does nothing to help people find their strengths but instead forces students to conform and if they fail to conform then they are spat out as of no value to society. The opportunities to recognise that you have made the wrong choice and to restart are not there. Instead the system leaves them with a huge debt that locks them into a path that they possibly chose before they recognised what it was that they were interested in or that they were good at. That debt becomes a noose around their neck limiting their future opportunities.
However, it is not only students who are disadvantaged by the system. I see staff locked in because they need the work but cannot afford to move to another location. I see it in others that I meet who are locked into low paying occupations with no opportunity to advance. Capitalism inherently encourages inequality. Capitalism encourages conformity to its story. Capitalism requires competition and if you cannot commit or prefer not to compete then you have no future.
Like King, we need to be calling for reform of an unjust system. Like king through nonviolent action or protest, we need expose the injustice. We have to expose it in such a way that there becomes a real drive for reform. We need to continue the reforms of the civil rights movement so that real justice prevails.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964) Why we can’t wait. Boston: Beacon Press.