The Temptation of Equity  

July 7, 2021 Updated: July 28, 2021


Biden’s push for equity in government hits legal and political roadblocks.

That was the headline of a front-page story in The New York Times recently. Note carefully the wording. We have two parts to the statement: a good one and a bad one. The good one is the “push for equity in government.” Who could argue with that? Equity in government is merely fairness for the people, you see, the guarantee that the powers of the state are applied justly and evenly across the population. The bad part is the part referring to those troublesome “legal and political roadblocks.” They sound like petty interferences with the fairness of the preceding part, procedural blockages that frustrate the moral good of equity.

The story focuses on a small business owner in Madison, Wisconsin, a chocolatier who was told that a $50,000 payment from the federal government was coming in order to help her weather the COVID-19 crisis. The assistance was part of a special program set up by the Biden administration, one especially sensitive to business owners such as this one. But bad news followed not long after. The check was cancelled. A lawsuit had been filed against the program, and a judge had ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor against the government, leaving the business owner disappointed and confused.

“You can’t promise something and then take it back,” the business owner told the reporters.

It sounds so unfair and unfeeling—until, that is, we consider the gist of the program. For the equity of the Biden plan isn’t to parcel benefits equally across the population. It’s to rank beneficiaries by race. As the NY Times story explains it, the Biden approach is an effort to “radically realign the distribution of federal money and benefits in favor of people of color and other underserved communities.”

Syovata Edari, the chocolatier, we are told, “is black,” and she thus was able to step in front of white people lining up for federal assistance. The lawsuit challenging that privilege was filed by white Americans who objected to the favoritism, and the NY Times story, while clearly in support of the preferences, doesn’t indicate anything controversial about the judge’s jurisprudence. The reporters say nothing about pending appeals or official criticism of the decision. On the contrary, they devote paragraphs to further efforts by legal firms to contest these race-based plans, and the lawyers speak with firm confidence that doesn’t sound like puffing.

“It is very difficult to construct an argument that this program could possibly be constitutional,” one attorney for the plaintiffs said.

This is what liberals and Democrats mean when they cite “equity.” Because of racial discrimination in the past, we must practice it in the present, but change its direction. Blacks underwent inequality before, and a reverse inequality now will balance the accounts, pay a debt, and produce equity. Yes, it’s illegal, but to people on the left, it’s right and just. It isn’t liberal. It relies on group identity and liberalism prizes individual rights, but this is a contradiction that liberals have managed to accept. The putative fairness of reverse discrimination overrides the principle of equal opportunity, not to mention dispensing with the illegality—it’s simple.

One may wonder why liberals have so readily agreed to practices that they abhorred not so long ago, but the answers aren’t hard to determine. Most likely, it’s the promise of expiation, the prospect of getting out from under the shadow of historical guilt, that lures them to back equity practices. I’ve watched educated white liberals slip into a genuine panic when it appeared that, in a racial situation of some kind, they wouldn’t have the chance to signal their enlightened attitudes and ensure that everyone in the room—especially those people of color—knew that they were on the right side of things and were virtuous individuals. Their insecurity probably explains their “flexibility.”

Of course, it’s the rare recipient of that sympathy who can resist enjoying it. If money is attached to it, as in the case of the Biden program, well, who can refuse? The NY Times story doesn’t reveal very much about Edari, except that she falls squarely into the category of historically disadvantaged.

She told the reporters: “It doesn’t surprise me that these laws that we fought and died for, that were intended to benefit us—to even the playing field a bit more—are being used against us.”

Edari’s comment suggests that her antecedents go back to the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow, and the Civil War. One hears in her complaint generations of injustice suffered, along with the plea of a scrambling employer who is once again the target of old-fashioned discrimination.

Except that isn’t the case. Edari isn’t the stereotypical small-business owner, nor is she the typically historically disadvantaged individual. As you can see from profiles of her published elsewhere, she’s a successful trial attorney, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin law school who specializes in criminal defense. In 2020, she was named one of Wisconsin’s “Super Lawyers.” And her black heritage doesn’t come from the United States. Her father is from Kenya, and he came here in the mid-20th century to earn a doctorate at prestigious Northwestern University.

That background information reveals the lie of Edari’s claim of “laws that we fought and died for.” It also strains the notion that the Biden equity plan “evens the playing field a bit more.” If we were to select 10 small-business owners in the state of Wisconsin and compare them to Edari, I would bet that not one of them had a father with a doctorate from a super-selective and rich university, nor do any of them have an advanced degree—as she does—and a sterling record in the field of law. Does she realize the absurdity? Did the NY Times reporters not think to explore the background (three of them are listed as authors)?

Apparently not—the bare fact of skin color sufficed to identify her as a victim. And the Biden administration’s plan to apportion benefits on that basis couldn’t bother to dig any further into the attribution of victimhood. What the case shows is just how crude, indiscriminate, and downright inaccurate it is to make the assessment that Americans by race alone. It leads to false groupings and also to distorted thinking (how can maintaining group preferences produce a “level playing field”?). But the Biden administration is pushing ahead on these plans as fast as it can in spite of their illegality.

The NY Times story notes that the legal setbacks so far affect only a small portion of the equity initiative, and one can imagine federal workers getting that money out the door hastily before further legal battles are fought and lost. It’s yet another sign of the relentlessness of the “woke” movement and another test of conservative resolve to engage it.

Mark Bauerlein is an emeritus professor of English at Emory University. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, the TLS, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein is an emeritus professor of English at Emory University. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, the TLS, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.