“WE hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These words are from the second paragraph from the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson. These words embody the promise of the nation from the time of the American Revolution up to now, as each generation works toward the creation of a more perfect Union.
Unfortunately, this promise of America has been very elusive to many of our citizens — as the rich become richer, the middle-class shrinks, and the poor become even poorer. The stark difference cannot be more glaring during challenging times like depression recession, disasters, and yes, a pandemic.
The fact is, the billionaires and trillionaires amass more wealth even during these pivotal moments in history while the ordinary hardworking Americans suffer all the more. This is especially true during the coronavirus pandemic.
As the White House stated: “Across the country, more than 10 million Americans are unemployed, 14 million renters are behind on payments, and 29 million adults — and at least 8 million children — are struggling with food insecurity. Because of pervasive systemic racism and inequality in our economy, the burdens of this economic crisis are hitting communities of color and other underserved families hardest.”
And so as the United States of America begins a new chapter in our nation’s history under President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we have been hearing the words “equality” and “equity” as the new administration lays out its policies, programs and values in governance.
We hear that a lot in talks about the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, in debates about the stimulus checks, in providing educational opportunities, health care, and safety nets to the American people, and many more.
Let us focus on the issue of our health, which is the cornerstone of what is referred to in the Declaration of Independence as inalienable rights endowed to us by our Creator and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
What do these words “equality” and “equity” really mean? How are they different yet related in principle and objective? And how do they connect with the values of each and every one of us citizens of the United States of America in how we support or reject the direction the Biden presidency is steering this nation to?
According to the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public health: Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.
Unfortunately, we all know that in reality, “social systems aren’t naturally inequitable — they’ve been intentionally designed to reward specific demographics for so long that the system’s outcomes may appear unintentional but are actually rooted discriminatory practices and beliefs.”
Those who benefit from these social systems want to keep the status quo, and sadly, that is where we are right now.
Equity, on the other hand, “recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.”
Therefore, “Equity is a solution for addressing imbalanced social systems. Justice can take equity one step further by fixing the systems in a way that leads to long-term, sustainable, equitable access for generations to come.”
Going back to the issue of health, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines equity as “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically.”
Health inequities, therefore, as the WHO points out, involve more than lack of equal access to needed resources to maintain or improve health outcomes. They also refer to difficulty when it comes to “inequalities that infringe on fairness and human rights norms.”
Therefore, equal treatment to people of different circumstances is not the key to ensuring safety, good health and wellness for ALL Americans if the collective and greater good is our goal.
Race Matters Institute stresses that ”The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone equitably, or justly according to their circumstances.”
This is where our government wants to take us right now— the road to equality through health equity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there is health equity “when everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible.” Therefore, “equity is a process and equality is an outcome of that process.”
So, my kababayans and fellow Americans, do we agree with the principles of the Declaration of Independence? Do we agree that each person in America, and in fact each human being in the world, has inalienable rights life, and that good health is essential to sustain and foster life?
Do we agree that to achieve that we need to look after the greater good and ensure each person is given equitable access to health care so that we can have a nation, and a world that defeats COVID-19?
Do we agree that healthy people are more productive and peaceful, happier and united people?
Are we more of individualists — “kanya-kanya,” “matira matibay” who perpetuate the “rat race” — competing with others instead of working with others?
Or are we thinking of our collective good so can all rise up and become better, stronger together?
* * *
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
* * *
Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.