Equity and Justice Quotient: A new Approach to Structural Anti-racism

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.       Toni Morrison

The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.                                                    Bryan Stevenson

Today:  Today’s leaders of industries and educational organizations are increasingly looking for tomorrow’s leaders with a healthy dose of curiosity and imagination. Tomorrow’s leaders are believed to be those who are likely to advance new disruptive innovations to improve efficiency in human productivity, relations and connections, and hence a premium in estimating their curiosity. Curiosity quotient (CQ) has become a new measure of success in leaders, as distinct from Intelligent quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). CQ may draw on attributes of emotional capital in EQ and cognitive measures in IQ without necessarily relying on their full development to generate new ideas that may benefit society. For example, while IQ (the intellect that occasioned vaccine development) and CQ (the novelty of developing messenger RNA technology in a relatively short period) may be credited for the rapid development of the COVID19 vaccine, it would take a leader with a high EQ to undertake a mass distribution that would save lives. Yet, what all these efforts to mitigate COVID19 have revealed is that individual-based quotients, no matter how accurate in predicting specific individual performances, would be inadequate to predict, measure, and offer solutions to inequity and injustices that are threats to population health and general wellbeing. For there to be an adequate response to dismantling structural racism, there has to be a new quotient that goes beyond measures of individual performance. Indeed, systemic solutions demand new measures of institutional performance and hence a need for what I term the ‘Equity and Justice Quotient’ (EJQ).

The Morning Dawn: April 20, 2021, marks a new beginning in the quest for racial justice. The guilty verdict for the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer has become the turning point in the long-fought battle for systemic reforms to address structural racism. The much welcomed verdict signifies a historic moment that marks the beginning of reforms toward justice following years of police killings of Blacks. However, the work of translating the verdict into new approaches for systemic anti-racism does not begin and end with policing across the nation alone. A new approach should also be the beginning of processes and metrics that could predict institutional readiness for social justice in the knowledge production industry of our educational systems, particularly in our system of higher education. A key goal of transforming our system of higher education is to address structural racism by examination the institutional policies and practices that perpetuate structural racism in higher education. To do so means going beyond the individual-based performance measures of yesterday.

Yesterday: Traditionally, academic and organizational achievements have been measured based on tests to predict individual performance. Based on results achieved when specific tests are taken and/or certain tasks are performed, these performances are believed to be predictive of one’s intelligence. The merits of the importance of intelligent quotient (IQ) in predicting performance remains highly valued by many yet questioned by others, particularly given the limit of these tests to predict one’s potential contribution to structural solutions that will advance social justice. The emergence of mindfulness, for example, as a measure of emotional intelligence in the 1990s underscored the limit of singular reliance on IQ to predict the potential for individual positive relational achievement and leadership. Today, in terms of self-awareness, motivation, and regulation, the importance of emotional intelligence in predicting successful performance and achievement is no longer ignored. In these moments of racial reckoning, one’s readiness to overcome unconscious bias, for example, is likely to be the result of one’s EQ rather than IQ. Enhancing one’s emotional capital draws on spiritual investment in empathy which benefits from EQ even in this era of unprecedented investment in innovation and reliance on CQ. Yet, despite the investment in disruptive technology to improve efficient advancement of goods and services, individual-based performance measures are insufficient to address structural racism as a threat to public health, as declared by the CDC director and other leaders. What we need now is a new quotient based on institutional trustworthiness to achieve equity and social justice.

Tomorrow: To measure progress toward institutional and structural anti-racism, I am introducing the Equity and Justice Quotient (EJQ). I want to shift the language and measure of anti-racism from an individual-based performance measure to institutional measures of openness and commitment. In measuring EJQ, I consider organizational openness as the doorway that provides entrance to equitable services offered by the organization. The inviting nature and welcoming structure of the open doorway are the keys to measuring institutional commitment to justice rather than the conventional reference to individual access to services, focusing on minoritized groups’ opportunity to obtain services. Indeed, the organizational Equity and Justice doorway is the foundational apparatus for institutional trustworthiness necessary for equity and justice in service provision. Employing EJQ, for example, shifts the focus of vaccine distribution from the question of individual access to vaccines towards institutional and organizational trustworthiness measured by a commitment to anti-racism, equity, and justice.  Moving from a language of individual distrust to institutional trustworthiness shifts the responsibility for building trust away from individuals and minoritized groups who shoulder the burden of inequity. The new EJQ focus should be on changing the lack of institutional trustworthiness into commitment and responsibilities for promoting social justice. When using the Equity and Justice Quotient, it is less about whether individuals rate well on performance measures of intelligence, emotion, or curiosity but whether institutions have evidence-based trustworthiness in their policies and practices. These policies and practices should be measured by their openness in welcoming everyone to equitable services regardless of one’s identity and economic status. Currently, the conventional discourse on vaccine access makes it difficult to disentangle the reality of inequity in vaccine access to minoritized groups from the narrative of vaccine hesitancy. The latter is presumed to define the former. We need to unpack the degree to which the current lack of institutional trustworthiness contributes to population doubts and questions about vaccines as an indication of systemic injustice.

Beyond Personal Biases: EJQ also shifts attention away from focusing on an individual solution to dismantle racism. For example, addressing unconscious bias appears to be considered the standard solution to addressing inequity. Indeed, critical processes of how one deals with unconscious bias will likely benefit from the emotional quotient. Indeed, interventions about unconscious bias tend to focus on improving individual emotional intelligence in the hopes that this translates to bridging gaps in inequities and injustices. While individual soul healing efforts may offer space for improved relational habits, these improvements will not automatically transform the institutional framework into an open doorway for equity and justice for all. A call for individual growth in their emotional capital to address their own unconscious bias must be located within a broader call to address structural racism.  Otherwise, training to overcome individual biases and microaggression risks offering a space for individuals to soul-search a path to their healing at the cost of not directly confronting systemic racism, which is at the core of racial injustices and health inequity.

A Call for Systemic Action: In the wake of the April 20 verdict in which many were able to breathe, even if for a moment, what is clear is that the quest for systemic equity and justice underlies today’s structural imperative to address racism. To do so requires a different set of measures that move from individual performance measures to a focus on structural and systemic performances based on institutional equity and justice quotient. We have much to learn from younger generations that are leading the way for equity and justice, as past generations of their age cohort have shown during their time of calling for systematic equity and justice, such as the civil rights movement. If we are to dismantle structural racism globally, we must heed the voice and learn from the courage of Darnella Frazier and her generation. The time is now for institutional-based Equity and Justice Quotient.

Collins O Airhihenbuwa