Social Hierarchy In America Captured, Robert Franks at the Met


"Trolley" by Robert Franks, 1955


What a great example of James Sidanius’  nuanced theory of social dominance, which establishes a quadrant system to understand race, gender, and class hierarchy.  In the image, by Robert Franks, we see the hierarchy of race in mid-century American (and some would argue the hierarchy continues today. Seated in the trolley care in New Orleans in order of the hierarchy is: a white man, a white womyn, a white male child, a white female child, a Black man, and seated in the last seat, a Black womyn. The quadrant theory of race and gender holds that white men have the privilege of race and gender, yielding a ++, white womyn have the privlege of race juxtaposed with the disempowerment of gender (+-), as do Black men (+-), while Black womyn experience the hierarchy as a double negative of race and gender (–). This photo seems to capture that hieararchy perfectly.

Robert Franks was a German-Jewish- American photographer who came to the United States and began his career. An exhibition of his work entitled, “The Americans,” is being shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m not very familiar with his work and am excited to check out the exhibit.


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