Equity & shoes – a memorable metaphor

I learned a new term listening to Deray McKesson’s Pod Save the People today. And just when I was getting around to berating myself for not knowing it, actress Tracee Ellis Ross needed to be schooled in it too.

It’s “equity,” the latest term of art in inclusion. McKesson’s other guest, the mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, defined it memorably for me: “Equality is ‘everybody gets a pair of shoes’; equity means everybody gets shoes that fit.”

Yes indeed, equity is the way to go.

The mayor used another great analogy to explain how she describes equity to her white constituents who seem worried that life is a zero-sum game, that if I’m not winning then I’m losing, and I sure don’t want you to win instead. She said it’s like you’re in an elevator and another elevator passes you and you think you must be standing still but in reality your elevator is rising too. Well, or something like that.

I’m not sure how McKesson felt about the shoe metaphor. He was gracious but wary with the mayor—which is understandable, since her city just went on full high alert when the police shot a white woman; a significantly more proactive response than they’d had a few years ago when a Black person got killed. Mayor Hodges said the response was different this time because of all she learned the last time. She seemed humble enough to me—owning her past mistakes. I thought she did a great job. But of course a podcast interview is a different thing than actually governing.

But the metaphors—that’s what I wanted to talk to you about today. Especially when you’re explaining a concept like racial inequity—a concept that might scare some listeners, or cause them to shut down. We need even those people to at least begin to understand what justice looks like, so shoes. Who doesn’t like talking about shoes?

  • inclusion
  • race