Understanding Inequality and Why It Matters

Posted by on Jun 30, 2020 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Understanding Inequality and Why It Matters

Several recent events, such as the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the cancellation of many Pride month celebrations due to COVID-19, have really got me thinking. I’m thinking about the inequality experienced by minority groups in this country. When I say minority, I am talking about a group of people that does not enjoy the same privileges or rights as another group. This is due to their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability status, and/or religion. I believe understanding inequality requires reexamining how we view relationships.

The Problem with Tolerance and Acceptance

Undoubtedly, there has been some progress toward closing the inequality gap. As a society, we have thankfully moved away from practicing widespread, mass persecution of minorities (detain and abuse them) to a place where tolerance (ignore them) and/or acceptance (acknowledge them) are now the norm. The problem is that tolerance and acceptance alone do not lead to equality. In fact, they help perpetuate inequality because they do not promote respect for or meaningful connections between people who are different from one another. Ultimately, understanding is needed to end inequality. This means knowing, to the extent possible, the experience of people who are different from you.

The True Meaning of Understanding

Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D. makes this point perfectly in her June 2018 blog post. It appeared in Psychology Today titled “LGBTQ+ Pride Month: Why Tolerance Isn’t Enough.” She states, 

“Tolerating and accepting is a great start; however, they only require nonchalance, whereas understanding requires dedication. Tolerance or acceptance allows us to remain ignorant of people’s emotional, social, and legal struggles, whereas understanding enables us to recognize, support, and appreciate these struggles. Tolerance or acceptance lets us lump “those people” together in a separate box and treat them as “other,” whereas understanding helps us see each individual as a full-fledged, unique, complicated human being, “just like me.” Tolerance or acceptance cultivates “live and let live,” whereas understanding cultivates inclusive communities where we can all thrive together as equals. In short, understanding helps us realize we all inhabit the same box.”

The Key to Understanding Inequality

By now, you may be wondering what this has to do with relationships since this is, after all, a blog about relationships.  The answer is simple: relationships are the vehicle through which understanding occurs. A true understanding of what it is like to be a minority member ultimately grows out of authentic, face-to-face interactions. Virtually everyone knows someone who belongs to a minority group, whether it is your child, your step-parent, your sister-in-law, a co-worker, a friend, or some other person in your social network. Even if you are a minority, there are others in your group who carry at least one other minority status that you do not.

What You Can Do

I challenge everyone reading this post to move beyond tolerance and acceptance. Try to move to a place of understanding with the people in your life who experience inequality.

If you are reading this and think you have already achieved that kind of understanding, that’s wonderful. However, I still encourage you to consider how you can continue to grow in this area. They include:

  • Figure out what your biases might be and set them aside. 
  • Ask respectful questions. 
  • Listen without judgment. 
  • Look at things from the other person’s perspective. 
  • Keep an open mind. 
  • Educate yourself about the issues faced by minority groups. 
  • Take responsibility for your actions.

Remember that even seemingly small actions can lead to positive change.  Doing these things might not always be easy or comfortable but they are absolutely necessary. True equality cannot be achieved until we do the work of building the bridges that connect different groups of people.

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