by Rhianne Fiolka
People tend to think that equity is a zero-sum game; that supporting one group will innately take away another group. But supporting a marginalized group does not take away support from a privileged group. Equity does not work like a starvation economy.
A ‘starvation economy,’ as a social concept, was brought to my attention through the book the Ethical Slut. The authors, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, suggest that, in mainstream ideology, the pervasive idea that loving one person diminishes the love you have available for others dominates. In this conceptualization, love is considered a finite resource. However, the Ethical Slut suggests that love is actually an abundant resource.
The starvation economy of love we live in in the mainstream makes us see love and loss, and love hierarchies where romantic love sits above platonic or familial love. In reality, love can be lost but more often it is just a dynamic shift. And comparing familial versus platonic versus romantic love is essentially nonsensical; as anyone with more than one child will know, love is an abundant resource. In fact, often love can besought more love. And I believe equity works in similar ways.
Social equity is a concept suggesting that everyone should be given the same opportunities and the same access to resources (spatial, social, physical, etc.). And in our current society, because of intersecting systems of oppression, some groups of people have less access to opportunities and resources than other groups. Fighting for equity means fighting for giving all groups of people the access to whatever they may need to level the playing field. To do this, systems of oppression need to be actively fought. The most practical way to do this is to center marginalized bodies because those who are marginalized know what it is that they need most.
I find that one of the most problematic issues when discussing these topics is that people think that pushing for social equity and uplifting the most marginalized will be unfair or unjust to those who are not marginalized, i.e. typical people that don’t face that particular intersection of marginalization. Many people work under the assumption that helping marginalized groups will cost more money or take away from other groups. But this is not true. Equity, much like love, does not work like a starvation economy. Providing an equitable environment does not necessarily come at a cost for someone else, just as loving one person does not reduce your ability to love more people. In fact, like love itself, promoting equity can actually produce more love for all. Akin to loving your second child, or finding a new friend, your heart can swell to make room for more love. Giving resources (time, money, space, etc.) to marginalized groups can help create abundance for everyone. So how does promoting equity end up propagating even more benefits to those who are already privileged, or who are not directly targeted with social equity programs? How can equity be abundant?
We can consider accessibility to answer some of these questions. Ensuring that spaces are accessible does not make it so that typical bodies can’t access a space. For example, ensuring that a building considers various types of accessibility needs may take more time in the beginning, but eventually it can become as mundane as including current building codes. Ensuring equitable access actually levels the playing field and, more so, widens the opportunity for everyone. Including accessibility measures allows people to move through space with more freedom. Accessibility measures also allow for life cycling and future proofing of spaces. Accessibility measures allow people who are able today, but not tomorrow, to continue accessing the same resources. And accessibility measures allow us a diversity of perspectives that is tragically lost when someone faces obstacles entering a space. When accessibility isn’t a concern, our ability to grow together is astronomical. When accessibility needs are met, people are given more opportunities to enrich their own lives and more opportunity to enrich the lives of others. Abundance, not starvation.
Supporting LGBT+ communities is a similar phenomenon, where the starvation mindset is often inherent, but doesn’t need to be. For example, allowing LGBT+ communities to take up space in public does not necessarily take away space from cisgender-heteronormativity. Enhancing space to welcome diversity does not innately reduce the space for people who fit contently into our colonial norm. Learning about gender variance does not negate the experiences of cisgender people, rather it promotes the acceptance of more people in their most authentic character. Promoting social equity opens up the opportunity for love in its purest form.
If you feel concerned that marginalized groups who are attempting to level the playing field are actually trying to take the playing field away from you, consider how you’ve been taught about love. Were you taught that love is a finite resource? That love cannot be shared? If there is something deserving of love in your life, do you need to take love away from somewhere else to fuel this new thing?
Love is abundant. Social equity can be abundant. Fighting systems of oppression can benefit everyone. A very basic way to understand this may be to consider your internal ideologies and to shift your focus towards the abundance of love in your life.