The integration of dominant group norms into the structures of
society The construction of what’s normal and not-normal by the dominant group The invisibility of privilege for the dominant group
The integration of group-based norms into the structures of society. As we explained in Chapter 5, oppression is a deeply embedded system that operates on multiple levels at all times. The result of this system is consistent unearned privileges and advantages for the dominant group, regardless of any one individual member’s intentions. As with our male who sympathized with suffragists but still benefited from an androcentric system that granted him the vote (elevating and imposing his ideas and beliefs over womens’), intentions are irrelevant to receiving privilege. Even if a male disagreed with denying women the right to vote, and even if a male worked for women’s suffrage, he still lived in a society that automatically granted him privileges that were denied to women.
Similarly, in the example of ableism, since many of the things taken for granted as basic rights for able-bodied people (such as access to buildings and transportation) cannot be taken for granted by people with disabilities, they become privileges for the able-bodied. It is not necessary to do anything in order to receive these privileges; it isn’t even necessary to agree that we should receive them. Simply as a result of living in a society that defines some bodies as normal and some as abnormal, and then devalues the abnormal, those defined as normal (the dominant group) gain unearned benefits. Having always had these benefits, we come to see them as natural, inevitable, and something to which we are entitled (if we see them at all).
As an example of the structural integration of dominant norms, consider how cities and towns are designed. Prior to the 1990s, curb cuts (the place where the sidewalk slopes to the street), or tactile paving (textured surface to assist the visually impaired) did not exist. For able- bodied people, the need for curb cuts would not cross our minds—we can simply step up or off the curb. But for people with limited mobility, or who use wheelchairs or other technology, the absence of curb cuts severely limits access. Because a basic component of oppression is segregation between the dominant and minoritized groups, people with disabilities were not “at the table” and therefore their perspectives and interests were missing from the city planning decisions that so profoundly affect their lives. For many cities, the incorporation of curb cuts into city planning became law only with the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This simple change in structure opened the physical
environment to people with disabilities in profound and life-changing ways. Yet it took decades of activism from people with disabilities and their allies to get the ADA passed. Since then, cities have come to see that curb cuts are beneficial not only to people with disabilities, but to the elderly, the very young, people pushing strollers, bicyclists, and many others (however, the ADA is not consistently enforced and many buildings remain inaccessible).