The Power of Social Hierarchy

by knaeg1 on November 16, 2013 - 10:28pm


Race is a socially constructed phenomenon, and is based on racial and social hierarchy.  White males possess the very highest of the social hierarchy, interracial race follows, and African Americans occupy the very bottom of the racial triangle.  Euzhan Palzy in the film Sugar Cane Alley (1983) lays out the truth of social construction and how that contributes to ones legitimacy.  One thing we see in this movie is the concept of black and white and the superior power between the two.      All the workers were black, while all the overseers were white.   It even went further than that in that the black workers were forced to sit in the hot sun, on their feet all day, and were punished and considered lazy if they went to the bathroom or took a rest.  One worker even got their pay docked because he needed to use the bathroom while working.  The white overseers sat on their horses with umbrellas to protect them from the sun, and shouted orders of making the cane size bigger, and to work harder.   The notion of being white, gives one power.  Not one worker was white, and no African American had any form of power in this situation. The social construct of race has always been white man over black man.  This notion is played out in the film.  This notion is also seen as a form of slavery, which is considered very overt in the film.  This is because the whites are considered superior to the blacks, and there is no trying of covering up that domination.  The workers accepted this because working in that sugar cane field was their only form of income, and without this form of overt slavery they would not be able to feed themselves or their families.  Due to this strong form of overt slavery, the sugar cane workers were able to form a strong sense of richness in their community.  They have love and care for each other because of the bond they form over the work they do.  In the movie the social construction of race either gives person legitimacy, or takes it away.  All slaves are descendants of slaves, so they have no legitimacy. Legitimacy is reserved for white people.

            Another social construction of race we see in the movie is forms of interracial marriage resulting in interracial race in the movie.  When an interracial marriage takes place, the couple is predicted to lie on the “borderland.”  Interracial couples are both black and white.  One has power, while the other is considered illegitimate.    In the movie, Leopold is mixed.  His father is white, and his mother is black.  The father has all the power, while the mother has none.  Having a white father though, gives Leopold and his mother that borderland legitimacy.  Leopold therefore has more power than most, because he does have a white powerful father, but in the end, that still means nothing.  When Leopold’s father dies, Leopold cannot hold onto the land his father owns because he does not have the legitimacy of being fully white to hold onto it.  Also the father will not let Leopold have his last name because the last name belongs to white men, which Leopold is not.  After hearing this, and figuring out that his privileged life is not so privileged, Leopold runs away.  We see him at the end being arrested.  This shows that Leopold turned to a life of crime after learning of his position in life.  He becomes a kid without the advantage of being white.  This leads to him giving into pressures.  Without legitimacy, people turn to the pressures that life presents. Legitimacy offers a good life with no money trouble, no working in the fields, and no need to prove yourself in school to get scholarships.  In this movie to be a man is correlated with being a white man, which is correlated with legitimacy.  If a person is black in this movie, then your options of manhood are limited.  They can either work in the field until death, or have a slim chance at getting an education young enough to make something of themselves.  This movie is a good example of social constructions of race, legitimacy, and how that can make a person turn to a life of crime, or have power over others.    

   Palcy, E. (Director). (1983). Sugar Cane Alley [Motion picture]. France : New Yorker.                 


I really appreciate the fact that someone wanted to expose this reality to the world through a movie called Sugar Cane Alley. This shows the hierarchy based on racism and we can understand why some prejudices and inequalities still exist today. I remember a quote saying: If you where you come from, you know where you are going. This concept is applied by this movie. It demonstrates the past and this way we able to understand the present and to go on a way of improvement for everybody. Majority of movies exist to entertain but this one has also the goal to inform.

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