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Standpoint theory and societal privilege: Where do you stand?

Updated on June 9, 2014

How would your life change if you woke up tomorrow and ONE of your privileged standpoints changed? If your native English language became "English as a second language," your white/light skin is now of color, if your Christianity is now Atheist, if your able-body is no longer able, if your heterosexuality is now homosexuality, if your bank account, inheritance, job, and home were all gone in an instant. How would your life change? How should this shape your view of other's who face these disadvantages everyday of their lives?

I often think about this kind of possibility and wonder what exact impact such a happening would have on my life. I think the most drastic change would be if I were no longer physically able.

There are many things I enjoy at least weekly that would be difficult if I were physically handicapped. I am an active reviewer on Yelp, where everyday people share their experiences at certain restaurants, stores, and so on. One option a reviewer has is to indicate whether a place is wheelchair accessible or not. I often click yes or no without much thought, but it would take so much adjustment to have to find out if, say, a restaurant has a ramp or not before making the effort to get there and have a bite to eat. Also, I don’t have a car with capabilities for those with handicaps, so I’d have to take the bus. While Santa Clara County provides transportation for those in wheelchairs, it still takes time for the ramp to lower to the street and lift the wheelchair into the bus, and for the driver to secure the chair. I know that sometimes I wish the process could be faster, so I could imagine what kinds of reactions and looks people in wheelchairs may often get from impatient riders. Being less physically able still allows for independence, but no place is perfectly fitted for those with handicaps. It’s a matter of societal privilege; just like the world is made for right-handed people, it is made for the able-bodied. Able-bodied people, like right-handed people, did not earn these qualities; instead, they were born with them.

Also, language associated with this situation aligns with an argument by Asante that labels have political meaning and indicate the presence of power bases and differences. For instance, many people say those with physical handicaps are “disabled” or “handicapped.” People with physical handicaps resent this kind of language because it marks them with that label as an adjective, like it’s an extremely important part of them. Many often see people with handicaps as helpless, and thereby put themselves in a position of power.


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