USC historian Natalia Molina is reframing how we think about race in America this week as part of this week’s On Being podcast. Molina’s latest book, Black in the Nation: Negro Culture, Science and History in the Harlem Renaissance, uses archival sources and contemporary narratives to show how a group or an individual’s race or ethnicity can affect their experiences in society. The show is available to listen to on iTunes. Here are the excerpts:
You have to feel really good about your race identity to take on that sort of analysis. You have to feel good. It has to feel right. It has to be true. And that was true for Natalia Molina when she was writing Black in the Nation. This is the first book based on the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. So, she would be able to look back and say what was happening in Harlem? And by 1930 was the period when so many of the intellectuals were moving into Harlem. What kinds of things were they experiencing there? What was it like to live among black people? What were they thinking? How were they feeling? What was their perception of race? And what was their perception that the rest of the country had about black culture? And how was that changing as time went by?
Black in the Nation is not a history book. It’s a social history book that’s informed by a lot of archival resources. And the archival resources are the New Negro Movement and the black newspapers in Harlem that were being published like Sojourner Truth, the New York Age. And then you’ve got the Harlem Renaissance, which is the term that is used by historians to describe the turn-of-the-century period in which Harlem became one of the most important and unique cultural centers in the United States. The Harlem Renaissance is an idea that has been around for a while. It was not a new idea. The term, the Harlem Renaissance, was used to characterize the change that took place in that particular neighborhood in Harlem from the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth. And one of those things that caught my attention when I started reading the book for the