The bigoted building
The bigoted building is a thought experiment which tries to illustrate how bigotry can persist even after bigoted people are gone.
- James is a landlord who hates disabled people. While planning a new apartment building, he instructs the architect to not include any elevators or ramps in the design. When the architect asks him how wheelchair-bound people will get to their rooms, James says he doesn't want "those people" living in his building; if they can't climb the stairs, he won't rent to them! The building is completed and only able-bodied tenants move in, but, a few years later, James dies and the building becomes the property of his next of kin, Jenna. Jenna is the opposite of James, she cares a great deal for disabled people and wants to renovate the building to accommodate them. She discusses her plans to install an elevator with the tenants and they're all in agreement and even willing to accept a small rent increase in order to help. Unfortunately, after talking to an architect about her wishes, she's told that the renovations will be extremely expensive. Because an elevator was not planned in the initial layout, load-bearing walls will have to be reconfigured to accommodate one which will cost almost as much as the building's value, far more than Jenna and the tenants can afford. So, even though both the owner and renters want to allow disabled people, the elevator can not be built and the building will continue to bar disabled tenants. And, since the building still has many decades of use, disabled people will continue to be barred for many years until the building is finally demolished.
Obviously, a building can't be bigoted against disabled people, however, because it was designed by someone who was, the result is a building that functions as though it is bigoted. This is an example of systemic bigotry. Even if after all the bigots are removed from the system, the system itself (in this case, the building), still functions as though it's bigoted, and, until a major change is made in the system, it will remain that way.
Because the bigoted building thought experiment addresses ableism, it's a more approachable way of talking about systemic bigotry than by starting with some of the larger forms. Bringing up systemic racism tends to trigger white people and bringing up systemic sexism tends to trigger men, but most people don't become guarded when you talk about the discrimination faced by disabled people. Once a person can understand how systemic bigotry works at a fundamental level, you can then shift to the forms of bigotry they may be more sensitive toward.