It is well-known in political science that there are often trade-offs between having people that look like you represent you (descriptive representation) and having policy outcomes that are aligned with your views (substantive representation). For Black communities, this trade-off is even more acute. But while it is known that Black representatives across institutions at the federal and state level are more attentive to issues relevant to Black constituents, it is also the case that Black politicians have been complicit and/or responsible for some of the most catastrophic policy occurrences in American history, including but not limited to the Congressional Black Caucus sponsoring and supporting Ronald Reagan’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 (Taylor 2016). My dissertation thus attempts to empirically chart the trade-offs between the CBC’s representation of Black views in Congress, for which the literature describes them as quite effective, and protecting Black interests, which historical data has shown them to be quite inconsistent and, at times, oppositional to. Through analyzing their activity and cohesion as a voting bloc relative to other Congressional caucuses, their relationship to financial institutions and donors such as ExxonMobil and McDonalds, and their relationship to organizations like the National Black Council of State Legislators, I aim to situate the Black Caucus within the broader galaxy of Black politics, showing that as the Black community got more diverse in terms of money and geography, the task of representing the race becomes more vexing and perhaps out of step with the realities of contemporary Congressional governance.
PhD Candidate, University of California, Berkeley