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All people are created equal in rights, dignity, and the potential to achieve great things. True opportunity requires that we all have equal access to the benefits, burdens and responsibilities of our society regardless of race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other aspects of what we look like or where we come from.Equal opportunity means treating similarly situated people similarly, while taking account of human, cultural, and other differences. It means, for example, that a person’s race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation should be irrelevant to his or her ability to receive quality health care or to own a home. Ensuring equal opportunity in the 21st Century demands a nuanced understanding of the progress that we’ve made as a nation, as well as the nature of contemporary bias and systemic inequality. It requires understanding, for example, how stereotypes based on gender, race, and other social characteristics can come together in unique ways that require individualized attention—what Shirley Chisolm called, in the case of African-American women, “the twin jeopardy of race and sex…and the psychological and political consequences which attend them.” It includes the reality that we are all capable of bias and discrimination, including against members of our own group. And it requires acknowledging and addressing the instances of overt discrimination and bigotry that do remain in our society without believing that those are the only kind of inequality worthy of our attention. Finally, equal opportunity means not only ending overt and intentional discrimination, but also rooting out subconscious bias and reforming systems that unintentionally perpetuate exclusion. It requires proactive efforts to remake our institutions in ways that ensure fairness and inclusion.
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