One of the biggest beefs I have in online debate is the concept of “equality”. All too often I see people deny others based on the concept that, “Well, they’re just treating everyone the same.” The problem is there’s a big difference between literal equality and the concept of “equal opportunity”. The former is best used in mathematics, sciences, etc. with objects; the latter is what we’re referring to when talking about society and philosophy.
Literal equality is what some people seem to be advocating for when it comes to race, gender, religion, etc. They want everyone to be treated equal regardless of any differences between them. This does sound like a Utopian ideal on the surface, but it ignores the fact that we are not all created equal and that similar situations may not have the same outcomes. In fact, in mental health and physical medicine, a generalized approach is the worst thing you can do. Doctors, psychiatrists, and other professionals recognize that each individual has a multitude of factors and that the rules must be changed for each situation.
There is no place for literal equality when it comes to people; this is the sort of flawed thinking behind everything from flat tax rates to segregation. If we were truly literal when it came to equality, and treated everyone with a single set of rules, then we’d have no handicapped parking or ramps. There would be no tax-exemption for non-profits, schools would have no special needs programs, and children would be subject to the same laws and consequences as adults. Yet we don’t do any of that because society recognizes the differences in these cases and changes the rules.
That’s where we come to equal opportunity, also known as fairness, equity, or justice: the philosophical concept that we everyone has the right to the same chances in life. This level playing field requires acknowledgment of differences and exceptions to the rules to account for this diversity. If someone is physically handicapped, they’re provided with accommodations like special parking and ramps so they may access locations with the same ease as other people. If someone is Deaf, they’re provided with interpreters so they may enjoy the same shows or presentations as the Hearing. If a student has special needs, they participate in an educational program that provides them the same opportunities to learn as the rest of the student body.
Asking for equality isn’t “pandering” to a minority demographic, because that implies providing them an advantage. There is no advantage to parking closer for the physically handicapped; they’ll probably be in and out in the same time as everyone else. There is no advantage to making the poor pay less taxes; their quality of life is still low, just not as bad as if they’d paid more. This is where privilege blinds us to the reality of the situation, because we’re looking at what these populations receive through our own eyes. We see the handicapped space as convenient for us, thinking about how we’d get in and out faster, not knowing what it would be like to have a wheelchair or crutches. We see the poor receiving money back, thinking about how we received less (or had to pay), not knowing what it’s like to live off $20,000 a year as opposed to our own $100,000. Equality doesn’t mean we’re indulging the minority and giving them advantage over the majority; it means we’re allowing the minority the same chances in life as the majority.
Equality doesn’t mean we treat everyone equal, with no care for their situation; it means we find ways to allow everyone the same opportunities at education, success, and quality of life. It’s just a shame that’s hard for many to see, given they can’t see beyond their own privileged positions among the majority.