What is Black Capitol?
Years ago as I began to sketch out my dissertation I decided to title my pending thesis “Black Capitol”. For me, the meaning of “Black Capitol” derives from my time as a congressional intern where I began to see the U.S. Capitol not only as the site of federal legislative power, but also as a center of a new Black politics that evolved from the social movements of the 1960s to an institutionalized Black political class of African American legislators and political professionals. As I saw it then and now, my intellectual goal was/is to illuminate the facets of this Black political community, highlighting their power in American politics and the continued barriers they face. As I have begun to share my research both inside and outside of the academy, “Black Capitol” has evolved to also represent my opinions and perspectives on American politics that I regularly share on social media and in my writing. From my perspective, I do not just study Black politics or the moments when race is at the forefront of U.S. political discourse, my intellectual agenda is guided more fundamentally by examining how race organizes the American political system. As a professional and public sociologist, I will use this site to share insights from my research and speak more broadly about the intersections of race and U.S. politics.
There will be many headlines this week about the most diverse Congress ever. Those headlines will be accurate, but misleading. While it is true that the incoming Congress will represent the largest number of women and racial minorities ever to serve in the House and Senate, overall Congress will still be 80 percent white and 80 percent male.
Loretta Lynch had to wait 166 days to be confirmed as the next Attorney General, longer than any nominee for this position and longer than the last seven Attorney General nominees combined, but why? Democrats and those on the Left have suggested that race is at the center of the delay, with Minority Whip Dick Durbinquipping that Senate Republicans had put Ms. Lynch at the "back of the bus." On the other hand, Republicans have denied such accusations, citing that such remarks are beneath the dignity of the venerable institution. Republicans have raised questions over Ms. Lynch's support of the President's immigration policy and quarreled with Senate Democrats over abortion language in unrelated human trafficking legislation to explain the unprecedented delay. Nonetheless, while we are unable to ascertain if there are racist underpinnings in the long delay Ms. Lynch has suffered, it does not mean we cannot use Ms. Lynch's case to understand the role of race and gender in the modern Senate more broadly.
In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin expiates about American society, writing presciently that it is "a civilization sexually so pathetic that the white man's masculinity depends on a denial of the masculinity of the blacks." As always, Baldwin's writing is relevant for understanding contemporary society and the persistence of American racism and provides some explanation for the marginal professional success black gay men experience. However, it would be inappropriate and misleading to label that success as "black gay privilege" as did Dr. John Fitzgerald Gates. As a gay black man, I find fault in many of Dr. Gates' assertions principally because I have never encountered any of the secret spaces that he described where one gains access to a host of privileges. Furthermore, as a sociologist I am troubled by the instances where his claims of "black gay privilege" is not supported by social scientific evidence.
I am undoubtedly the biggest Beyoncé fan there is. I live and breathe her music. To me, there is no one greater. That being said, I feel I can say I am disappointed in Bey. At the Grammy’s, she sung “Take My Hand Precious Lord” a gospel classic written by Thomas Dorsey and recently sung by Ledisi for the movie Selma. Ledisi should have sung that song, a song for which she was nominated that night. However, there is a deeper issue at stake and that is how she and other artists can deploy racial symbols without doing the substantive work of protesting.
The 114th Congress officially began on January 6th and it is the most diverse Congress ever. There are 442 Whites, 46 African Americans, 33 Hispanics, 12 Asian Americans, and 2 Native Americans members of Congress. Noticeably, the increase in racial representation is not solely because of Democrats, Republicans are slowly diversifying their caucus. Mia Love (R-UT) became the first Black Republican woman in Congress and Tim Scott (R-SC) is the first Black elected senator from the South since Reconstruction. While the bulk of the diversity must be credited to Democrats, what is impressive is that in this new Congress freshmen African American representatives, like Bonnie Watson (D-NJ) hail from majority-white districts, providing some optimism that African Americans can run and win in non-majority minority districts Furthermore, the last election cycle saw the highest number of African Americans running for Congress. While this is the most diverse Congress there has ever been, this moment also informs us of the shortcomings of diversity.
Here are 5 reasons why the diversity in Congress is not something really to celebrate
Democratic leaders in the Senate adopt new rules for a diverse workplace outlined in Senate Staff Diversity Report.
The Department of Sociology at Columbia University awarded James R. Jones with the Robert K. Merton Award for Best Dissertation. His dissertation "Black Capitol: Race in the Halls of Power" is the first sociological study of racial inequality in the United States congressional workplace.
In 1978, Glenn famously labeled Congress the “Last Plantation,” to highlight how the institution was exempt from federal workplace laws, making the legislature one of the last places where racial discrimination was allowable. The senator spent much of his twenty-year career on Capitol Hill working to end this congressional double standard that exempted lawmakers from the laws they passed.