'Becoming American' - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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For Howard Dodson, one of the foremost experts on African American history, the election of President Barack Obama was not just a momentous occasion for blacks in America, but for people throughout the entire African diaspora.

The shared experiences of people of African descent is what led Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, to write Becoming American: The African American Journey, a dual chronology tracing Africans through both global and American history.

Dodson spoke with BlackEnterprise.com‘s Marcia A. Wade about the African American relationship to American democracy and the parallels one can draw from the experiences of blacks in America and abroad.

BlackEnterprise.com: How did you come up with the title Becoming American? Would you say that African Americans are, in fact, now Americans?

Howard Dodson: I thought about a group of black people gathering in New York in 1831 to talk about their Americanness and to affirm themselves as Americans. At exactly the same time that that happened there were very strong political initiatives by both friends and foes of African Americans to convince the free black population to move to Africa. Their position was that they were born and their parents were born in this country, that they had worked to make the country what it was, and they had, at times, gone to fight on behalf of the country. And therefore they were as much Americans as anybody else who had stepped off the boat in the 1820s or 1830s, and they had no intention of going anywhere.

How did you determine what features would best illuminate the journey of Africans to becoming American citizens?

Some things are foundational. You can’t really talk about the African American experience without talking about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself. You can’t talk about the African American experience without dealing with the Emancipation Proclamation, etc.

Some of the others were chosen because they speak to specific moments in history, but more importantly are actually interrogating the African American relationship to American democracy and our status as citizens in this country.

Why was it important to place African American history into the context of global history?

In this book, I try to position the African American experience in the context of what was going on globally, especially in the black world. Sometimes the relationship between an event in the United States and one in the Caribbean is not a direct and linear one, but they may in fact be brought on by the same kind of political and social forces.

It is my hope that, as African Americans go through the timeline, it will create some expanded notion of their place in the world and of their relationship to the world.

What would you say is the relevance of this book in regard to the world witnessing the election of the first American president of African descent?

I consider Barack Obama’s election the fullest affirmation by the United States of the Americaness of African

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.

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