The United States of America has a long history of inequality, from its treatment of Native Americans to women’s rights, it has tended to favor one group over others, but it has attempted to repair the damage it caused. However, even though America is the “land of opportunity,” its formerly oppressed peoples are not equal, but what does it mean to be equal? Is equality the government saying you must have the same number of employees from each arbitrarily defined “race?” Does equality mean that people should be forced to be equal? In examining this issue, one must define equality itself.
There are three forms of equality: equality of outcome, of opportunity, and of perception. Equality of perception is the most basic: it dictates that for people to be equal, each person should be perceived as being of equal worth. Equality of opportunity dictates that all people should have the same opportunities open to them if they put out the effort this is a central tenet of the “American Dream.” The final form of equality, equality of outcome, attempts to “level the playing field” by forcing people into certain roles and dictates that all individuals should tend towards the mean this form of equality is evident in socialist theory.
America has enacted laws that are based on equality of outcome to attempt to ensure that “minorities” and women have access to equal pay and to remove glass ceilings, but while these programs have repaired some of the damage, paraphrasing Milton Friedman, equality of outcome leaves most people without equality and without opportunity. This is because forced equality is not equality and only hides the real issue of inequality based on perceptions.
Equality is not saying that all people are physically and mentally equal, nobody would bet an average teenager could win a game of basketball against a professional player, nor can every six-year-old be a physicist because human beings are not inherently equal. However, “true equality” says that potentially everyone should have the same opportunities, that is to say, that potentially the toddler could play professional basketball and potentially the six-year-old could become a future Einstein regardless of superficial characteristics. While these two people may not actually be able to achieve their dreams, this does not mean they should be limited by what people perceive they are capable of. This is equality of perception.
Unlike equality of outcome, equality of perception creates equality of opportunity by dictating that all people should be allowed the same opportunities even if they aren’t capable of realizing them. This allows people to reach their own plateaus without unfair external pressures. However, when one attempts to use equality of outcome to create opportunity, one must take away opportunities from one person to give them to another, rather than allowing both individuals to reach their own, personal, peaks. This is not always a bad thing, during the civil rights era it was an important move to integrate America’s divided society; however, it was a first step, and only a first step. America must move beyond this first step to continue to answer its call as the “land of opportunity.”
Of course, many factors come into account throughout individual lives that change an individual’s capacity for different activities. Equality of perception requires that one realize the way we perceive people based on bias should not limit their opportunities because it does not reflect their abilities. This means that with equality of perception no human being is artificially kept from achieving their goals based on skin color, religion, national origin, or class. Equality of perception cannot be legislated, it can only be taught, but it will create freedom and lead the way to equality of opportunity, but focusing on equality of outcome just limits the freedoms upon which America was founded.