KSU sociology professor addresses black women’s issues in award-winning book

Conner Howard

What is the state of black women in today’s society? How did things get this way?

What is the state of black women in today’s society? How did things get this way? These questions are exactly what Dr. Nicole Rousseau attempts to answer in her book “Black Woman’s Burden: Commodifying Black Reproduction.”

In 2006, while finishing graduate school at George Mason University, Nicole Rousseau wrote her dissertation on the social inequalities faced by African-American women. Later that year, she used her dissertation to lay the groundwork for a historical text that would help define her career. The end result was “Black Woman’s Burden: Commodifying Black Reproduction,” a historical text that explores the state of black women in society in a historical context and won Rousseau a scholarly achievement award.

“I was trying to contextualize where black women are today in history and understand what’s going on with black women today,” Rousseau said. “There are so many statistics out there that we see of the number of black women who have children when they’re teenagers or before they’re married, or unintended pregnancies, abortion rates, sterilization rates. I started to wonder ‘Why is that?’ There’s something going on, and it’s not something that just happened in a vacuum right now, there’s something historical that’s been going on since the beginning.”

Rousseau used the data she gathered for her dissertation to begin work on a more marketable and publishable book. By the end of 2008, she had completed a full sociological text.

“With a dissertation, you have to talk about your research and talk about your methods used, and defend why you chose those methods. With the book, I just told my story about what my theory was and what my analysis of it was.”

Rousseau said after writing “Black Woman’s Burden: Commodifying Black Reproduction,” her career inside and outside the classroom has been furthered.

“It’s been very useful for me in the classroom. I lecture a lot of this stuff, but ever since writing the book, I lecture in a very coherent fashion because it’s from the book,” Rousseau said. “In terms of my career it illustrates that I’m not just thinking about this stuff but I’m writing about it and publishing it.”

On top of writing a book that culminates her lifework, Rousseau said having a scholarly achievement award under her belt doesn’t hurt either.

“It’s allowed me to have a little bit more cache with my publisher. Normally it takes at least two years to get out to paperback and I’m going out in a year,” Rousseau said. “It’s an award-winning book now. It’s not just a book someone wrote but an award-winning book.”

Although “Black Woman’s Burden: Commodifying Black Reproduction” is a historical text and is based off of objective research, Rousseau had a very personal claim in the writing process. Rousseau’s analysis was inspired by personal experiences and passionate interest.

“I remember I was watching ‘The View’ while taking a break, and Ann Coulter was on, and she was hawking her new book that had a chapter in it called ‘Victim of a Violent Crime: Blame a Single Mother.’ She started talking about how all the criminals are black and have single mothers,” Rousseau said. “There was a lot of coded language that was very racist and problematic. I just stopped what I was doing and started writing. I ended up writing a section about it, literally citing Ann Coulter on ‘The View’ on that date. I put it in writing, I said ‘No, this isn’t okay,’ and I had a sociological analysis as to why.”

The feedback Rousseau has received for her book has been almost entirely positive. Of course, this is not to mention the overwhelming number of congratulatory e-mails regarding her recent award flooding her inbox.

“I have gotten reviewed by the Journal of African American Studies and I’m being reviewed by Contemporary Sociology, which is probably the premier source of reviews for sociological works,” Rousseau said. “I haven’t seen those reviews yet, but in terms of just reactions to the work, I’ve gotten mostly entirely favorably reactions.”

However, Rousseau’s work has not been entirely without its critics.

“I did do a talk last year at a state university in Ohio, and I actually received some hate mail. It was pretty intense and it was someone who felt that she was speaking on behalf of all of the other white students in the room, and there was an appeal that I was speaking against whites by speaking about blacks,” Rousseau said. “I think some of my students hate it (my book), but I don’t think it’s personal.”

Following the success of “Black Woman’s Burden: Commodifying Black Reproduction,” Rousseau plans to keep writing sociological texts. She is currently working on an edited volume, or collection of scholarly articles, on the subject of the sexuality of female black senior citizens. Her aim is to branch off from the foundation built from her previous work.

“People don’t really talk about black senior women’s sexuality. It’s kind of taboo and foreign and invisible, so we’re doing research on that. I’m hoping to do some research in the future where I can write some books about black women’s reproductive health disparities.”

Dr. Nicole Rousseau is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and is starting her third year with the Kent State Department of Sociology. Her concentration is on social inequalities in race, gender and class, sexualities, and urban sociology.

Contact Conner Howard at [email protected].