Who, What, and Why is ESSA Rising?
ESSA Rising is a persona, project, and provocation for building an alternative reality out of Equity, Sustainability, Systems, and Action.
ESSA Rising is a three-year experiment in the making. She is an adventure turned venture, a critical question turned critical quest, an inner irritation turned outward agitation for transformative change. Slowly breathing life through her three forms: persona, project, and provocation. Where ESSA’s persona embarks on a personal journey of self-healing through ‘persona-fication’ (read: Part 1: The Persona-fication), E.S.S.A’s project departs on a learning journey that roadmaps an answer to the question: if systems change is our only option left, what is it actually going to take for us to get there? This question is born out of a pure restlessness to move from theory and awareness to action and evaluation in an eleventh hour effort to reframe, redefine, and reimagine our current reality for an alternative one. E.S.S.A is a project based on practice as praxis and so aims to document the live and evolving learning experience of theory, action, and reflection based on four fundamental principles: Equity, Sustainability, Systems, and Action. With these four guiding principles in mind, E.S.S.A’s project is all about rising to the challenge, rising to the occasion, and rising to the opportunity for an alternative reality that solves for our current one.
E is for EQUITY:
To fully understand equity (not the liquid assets kind), it is important to first understand intersectionality. Intersectionality is an analytical tool that is used to demonstrate the ways in which certain people simultaneously experience more than one type of systemic oppression. These systems of oppression relate to race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, faith, and geography to name a few. In its analysis, intersectionality shows how these multiple oppressions not only overlap with each other, but how they interact with, reinforce, and compound one another to create unique and complex experiences of oppression and marginalisation that cannot be siloed or simplified. So the more marginalised identities one person holds, the deeper and therefore more difficult it is to solve their experience of exclusion and structural inequality. This is intersectionality: recognising that a white, upper-class, able-bodied, cis-hetero woman’s experience of oppression is not the same as a poor, disabled, romani woman who identifies as trans.
And so equity is the humble recognition that due to historic and systemic oppression, specifically marginalised groups of people need to be uniquely supported according to their disproportionately disadvantaged starting point in life. The conceptualisation and practice of equity challenges equality as a 21st century development paradigm and actually goes one step further in highlighting its fallacy that by simply treating everyone the same, everyone will eventually end up equal. Not true. By oversimplifying and overlooking unequal distributions of power, wealth, access, and resources across identity groups, equality actually reinforces the very inequality it aims to solve. This unintended consequence has been left uninterrogated for far too long — equal treatment of people does not yield equal results when power and privilege give some a head start in life and put others on the back foot in life. While equality may be the target destination, equity functions as the necessary stepping stones to getting there. The good news is that we can use equity as a tool to level the playing field so that one day, in the spirit of equality, we cantreat everyone the same. However we are not there yet. To demonstrate what leveling the playing field looks like, let’s take the very literal playing field of an athletics track and the 200 metre race at the Olympics.
As typical competitive running rules would have it, our athletes need to run exactly the same distance (in this case 200 metres) in order for the race to be fair. And so treating everyone the same according to equality’s logic would be to make all athletes start from exactly the same point and finish at exactly the same point. However, what equality misses is the bend in the track which, in this case, represents historical power and privilege, with each lane representing different identities. At first glance, the bend in the track may not seem to matter. However, what the bend in the track does is create an invisible advantage for our athletes running on the inside of the curve and an invisible disadvantage for our athletes running on the outside of the curve because they have further to run. And so, if all our athletes were to start from the same point as equality would have it, it is highly likely that our athletes on the inner lanes would always win the race because the bend in the track creates disproportionate distances and therefore unfair advantage.
The practice of equity, on the other hand, recognises this invisible advantage-disadvantage dynamic and positions the athletes at relative starting points in order to mitigate the bend and level the playing field. At first glance, placing the outer lane athletes ‘more forward’ may look unfair to the naked eye, thus producing feelings of anger, entitlement, and suspicion. However, with some science and an open acknowledgement of the inequity that the bend creates, we have gotten used to the idea and can understand why it is fair to treat the athletes differently according to the lane they’re running in. The same can be true for intersectional equity: with some social science and an open acknowledgement that to be disabled, female, poor, of colour, or an asylum seeker is to be running in the outer lane and at an automatic disadvantage in life because of the ways in which our social systems bend. Therefore, we must treat these identity groups of people in a unique and equitable way.
Now this is not to say that the Olympics is entirely equitable either. There is still the fact that some competing nations will have been able to afford and build up better infrastructure to train their athletes for gold due to centuries of accumulated wealth and power based on the legacies of global imperialism and hegemony. The point is, equity as a practice acknowledges and actively addresses asymmetrical power and privilege and, in doing so, seeks to one day create an alternative reality where equality’s same-same treatment of everyone is possible. But not until we acknowledge and address the bends of inequality in humanity’s track.
Concepts such as reparations, affirmative action/positive discrimination, and social welfare all build towards and are a part of equity-based practice and should be taken very seriously if we fundamentally believe that all humans deserve to be treated equally (in the long run) with equal access to equal opportunities in life. The question is, what are we willing to give up for it?
So much gratitude to my old chum Alex Crumbie who taught me all about modern syntax and punctuation. Check out his art and crafts at www.alexcrumbie.com
And don’t forget to clap those hands down below if any of the above resonated with you…
Coming soon… Part 2: The Project (Sustainability)