As an naturalized American, I have always struggled with the idea of American exceptionalism especially considering the injustice I see daily through poverty and food insecurity. Could understanding equity help me appreciate the American idea? Two articles allowed me to start thinking about this question.
The first article “Is the American Idea Over?”[i] looks at the original ideology that lead to the founding of the Atlantic Monthly in 1857. The original mission statement, if there had been mission statements in the nineteenth century, was for the magazine to be an exponent of what they believed to be the American idea as expounded by Theodore Parker in 1850. He stated that the American idea was comprised of three statements:
- That all people are created equal;
- That all people possess unalienable rights;
- That all people should have the opportunity to develop and enjoy those rights.
This article concludes that the American idea is essentially that “prosperity and justice do not exist in tension, but flow from each other” and that’s what we should be currently defending. While I think I agree, I am concerned that there are too many ways to interpret both prosperity and justice[ii].
As someone moving into the food justice nonprofit world, I’ve read a lot of mission statements and vision statements and objectives that promise equity without necessarily defining what equity means to them. I took equity for granted until I read the second article, “Can We Agree on this Simple Definition of Equity?”[iii] in which equity is defined as it applies to nonprofits and philanthropic foundations:
“Equity is about ensuring the communities most affected by injustice get the most money to lead in the fight to address that injustice, and if that means we break the rules to make that happen, then that’s what we do.”
Now I can see a way to make a connection between the American idea and equity. Considering this definition and looking at “What the heck does equity mean?”[iv] and “Stop Calling Everything Equity”[v], I think equity is the last statement of the American idea. Thus, we should make sure the American idea continues by giving the most resources, as money, to those communities who have suffered the most injustice so they can have the opportunity to develop and enjoy their rights.
[i] Appelbaum, Y. Is the American Idea Over? The Atlantic Magazine, November 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/is-the-american-idea-over/540651/
[ii] Jen Rovetti, Defining Justice, FoodCorps Blog, June 26 2017, https://foodcorps.org/justice/
[iii] Vu Le, Can we agree on this simple definition of equity? NonProfitAF, Oct 16 2017 http://nonprofitaf.com/2017/10/can-we-agree-on-this-simple-definition-of-equity/
[iv] Putnam-Walkerly, K. and Russell, E. What the heck does equity mean? Stanford Social Innovations Review, Sept 15 2016, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/what_the_heck_does_equity_mean
[v] Okuno, E. Stop Calling Everything Equity, Fakequity, June 9 2017 https://fakequity.com/2017/06/09/stop-calling-everything-equity/