Theses Doctoral

Black Capitol: Race and Power in the Halls of Congress

Jones, James Raphael

Black Capitol investigates the persistence of racial inequality in the federal legislative workforce. I frame the existence of racial inequality in Congress not as an outgrowth of certain racist members of Congress, but as a defining characteristic of the institution. I analyze how these disparities are produced by and through an institutional structure formed by race. This leads me to offer the concept of Congress as a raced political institution. I use the term raced political institution to mean institutions, organized for the purposes of government, in which race is embedded in the organizational structure, and is a determining factor of how labor and space is organized on the formal level. In addition, I use the term to informally capture how perceptions of power influence identity construction, interactions, and culture. I build on scholarship from critical race theorists, to argue that Congress is a seminal institution in the American racial state, responsible for structuring race and inequality in American society. From the perspective of Black legislative staff, who currently or previously worked in the Capitol, I assess how the congressional workforce is stratified, how physical space is segregated, and how interactions and identities are racialized. I employ a mixed methods approach, including over 70 semi-structured interviews with current and former legislative employees, archival research, and ethnographic observations of the staff organizations. This analysis contributes to a wide range of scholarly conversations about citizenship, representation, democracy, and bureaucracy. More broadly, this work raises important questions about the distribution of power in the American political system and how inequality in Congress reverberates off of Capitol Hill.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Nelson, Alondra
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 15, 2017