Author ORCID Identifier

Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Oberlin Community Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Jenny Garcia

Committee Member(s)

Jenny Garcia
Adam Howat
Renee Romano


Congress, Representation, Race, African American


Are Black legislators uniquely able to represent Black Americans? There is a preponderance of evidence suggesting that Black legislators do in fact represent Black constituents more effectively than white representatives. Although this pattern is well-established in the literature, scholars disagree about the key factors that drive this difference in racial representation. Are Black legislators, because of their own racial identity, inherently more likely to advocate for racial issues, or are they merely responding to the demands of their constituencies? Amongst the extensive scholarship examining racial representation in Congress, few have managed to disentangle the competing influences of legislator racial identity and electoral incentives. This study aims to disentangle these competing influences. By examining key case studies of Black and white Members of Congress from the same district, I observe differences in racial representation while holding the constituency composition constant. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of bill sponsorships, floor speeches and committee work indicated that Black representatives generally dedicated a greater proportion of their legislative actions to racial issues compared to white legislators of the same districts. These findings suggest that racial identity continues to have an impact on legislator behavior, even when the racial makeup of the district stays the same. The results of this study, which emphasize the specific role of legislator racial identity in driving racial representation, have important practical implications for how best to improve representation of Black Americans in Congress.