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The Curb-cut effect: Fixing the system is good for all of us

Focused breathing. I've been doing quite a bit of it recently! Especially when I encounter the “all lives matter” retort for the $%^th time. Breathe…

Just in case: here’s one more metaphor that helps explain why it’s insensitive to say “all lives matter” as a retort to “black lives matter”: when a house is burning down, we don’t send the fire engine to all the houses.

And here’s the thing I keep coming back to: the sooner the fire is put out, the sooner everyone is safer.

“No one is free until we are all free.” – Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

This 2017 Stanford Social Innovation Review article by Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of PolicyLink and author of “Uncommon Common Ground”, spells out how laws and programmes intended to benefit marginalised people actually end up benefitting all groups.

Blackwell coined the term curb-cut effect to describe how this happens. A curb-cut is the lowered portion of the curb made at intersections so that wheelchairs can easily ramp down on to the road. While these innovations were created to benefit wheelchair users they’ve ended being useful to all sorts of unintended beneficiaries: parents pushing prams or shopping trolleys, people walking with frames, cyclists and skaters, and so on.

Helping one group of people does not automatically injure other groups. In fact the reverse is true: when we don’t address problems faced by a marginalised group, there are serious consequences for society as a whole; for instance, in lowered economic efficiency because that group is not participating properly in the economy.

It’s now generally accepted that increasing representation of women in business has a net positive effect for the economy as a whole. For instance, this McKinsey report from 2017 shows how countries all over the world have increased GDP by broadening their work force. Closing the wage gap and increasing participation of women they predict will add $150 billion to the Canadian economy by 2026. Achieving representation has required changes to policy and law, it has not happened naturally and there’s still a long way to go.

We all will benefit when “black lives matter,” when “indigenous lives matter,” when “queer lives matter,” so let’s invest in that future by supporting the policies and law that will make it happen.

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