I joined the faculty of Johns Hopkins in 1994 as I was completing my doctoral study at the University of California, Davis. I then possessed a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in Written Communication from Mills College (Oakland, CA, 1983); a Master of Arts degree in Applied Communication Research from Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA, 1984); and a Master of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of California, Davis (1990). The Ph.D. was awarded me in 1995. I currently hold the title of Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director for the Center for Africana Studies. I was tenured in the spring of 2006, the second black woman ever to be awarded tenure in the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering at Hopkins. I served as the Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs from 2008-2010. My other professional affiliations are with the American Sociological Association, the Hopkins Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Hopkins Population Center, and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. And recently, I ended my term as a gubernatorial appointee to the Board of Directors for the Maryland Humanities Council.
The courses I teach here at Hopkins include The African-American Family, The Black Woman Revealed, The Sociology of Gender (formerly Men and Women in Society), Introduction to African-American Studies, Race, Racism, and Racial Privilege, and Qualitative Research Methods. And for the past several years I have taught introductory courses in Sociology, History, Research Methods, and Philosophy in China and Taiwan during the summer.
My research and teaching interests focus on explicating how life is lived at the margins of society for disadvantaged social groups, such as racial, gender, and class minorities. I began my academic career by examining maternal activism among middle-class black women, a long tradition steeped in what I call “normative empathy.” I showed how this motivation is derived from a conjunction of empathy for other black women and of African-American norms of solidarity, responsibility, and accountability. Since that time my research has covered a number of related and other topics, including:
- Potential barriers to women-centered kin support for present-day urban black teen mothers.
- Differences in life outcome among black and white children of the inner city, and the extent to which urban disadvantage differentiates young adult educational outcomes by race and gender.
- How contemporary black women’s ideas of black womanhood and sisterhood merge with social class status to shape certain attachments and detachments among them.
- Determining whether military service is indeed a potential pathway to early socioeconomic achievement for disadvantaged groups.
- The paradox of institutional racism for minority teachers at elite, private K-12 schools.
- The experience of downward residential mobility among disadvantaged black mothers.
- And most recently, contemporary marriage among young American-born blacks, Africans immigrants, and black Caribbean immigrants in the United States.
My research is in the sociology of the family and in the study of “intersectionality,” the study of how life is experienced as overlapping and intersecting social identities and oppressive social institutions. My second book, Marriage in Black: The Pursuit of Married Life among American-born and Immigrant Blacks, co-authored with Caitlin Cross-Barnet, was released in 2018 (Routledge). This book contemplates how contemporary young black couples (in their thirties) enter into and negotiate marital relationships, navigate marital conflict, and endure socio-structural challenges. One of several research objectives addressed is to better understand the nature of black marital egalitarianism, given a number of claims over the years of greater prevalence of egalitarianism among blacks as compared to other racial and ethnic groups. But most importantly, we reveal the everyday inner-workings of black marriage, rather than preoccupy on black divorce and non-marriage.
In 2007, I released Embracing Sisterhood: Class, Identity, and Contemporary Black Women (Rowman & Littlefield). With Michelle Obama’s new book, Becoming, this book has gotten new attention. In it I analyze how contemporary black women’s ideas of black womanhood and sisterhood merge with social class status to shape certain attachments and detachments among them. Similarities as well as variations in how black women of different social backgrounds perceive and live black womanhood are interpreted via my primary metaphor “embracing Oprah.” I find that the potential for a pervasive and polarizing “black step-sisterhood” is considerably undermined by the passion with which black women cling to the promises of cross-class, gender-ethnic “community” and of group determination. Embracing Sisterhood draws its analysis from in-depth interviews with 88 contemporary black women aged 18 to 89, covering issues associated with dimensions of gender-ethnic identity and consciousness.
Since 2017, I have been crafting new research I’ve titled “Reparations for Black Bodies.” This project is an in-depth study of socio-political movements throughout the African Diaspora demanding reparations for atrocities inflicted on its people. While demand for reparations often call for the return of ancestral land or monetary payments, of late they have also included the removal of monuments in their cities and countries raised to honor those who led in these atrocities. This research is an historical-comparative project that covers the broad range of reparations activity across the Diaspora and uses the Atlantic Slave and the Namibian Genocide as case studies.
My colleague Daniel Pasciuti and I have been working on an introductory social statistics textbook we have titled Statistical Odyssey: Real Sociology, Real Research. This text is designed to introduce students to statistical concepts in the appropriate order, to help students to not confuse theoretical lessons with empirical ones, and to connect statistics lessons to real-time research as reported in academic journals like those of the American Sociological Association.
230.255 The Sociology of Gender (formerly Men & Women in Society)
230.316 The African-American Family
230.323 Qualitative Research Practicum
230.332 Race, Racism, and Racial Privilege
230.616 Researching Race, Class, and Gender
230.649 Qualitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences
362.111 Introduction to African-American Studies
Summer Courses Taught in China:
- Introduction to Sociology
- Introduction to History, 1945 to Present
- Introduction to Philosophy
- Introduction to Social Research Methods
2019. Book Review: The Grind: Black Women and Survival in the Inner City. American Journal of Sociology (Forthcoming).
2018. St. Vil, Noelle, McDonald, Katrina Bell, and Caitlin Cross-Barnet. “A Qualitative Study of Black Married Couples Relationships' with their Friend and Extended Family Networks." Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 99(1).
2018. McDonald, Katrina Bell and Caitlin Cross-Barnet. Marriage in Black: The Pursuit of Married Life among American-born and Immigrant Blacks. New York: Routledge.
2017. St. Vil, Noelle, McDonald, Katrina Bell, and Caitlin Cross-Barnet. “A Qualitative Study of Black Married Couples Relationships' with their Friend and Extended Family Networks." Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services.
2015. Cross-Barnet, Caitlin, and Katrina Bell McDonald. “It’s All about the Children: An Intersectional Perspective on Parenting Values among Black Married Couples in the United States.” Societies, 5(4): 855-871.
2013. Bennett, Pamela R. and Katrina Bell McDonald. “Military Service as a Pathway to Early Socioeconomic Achievement for Disadvantaged Groups.” In Life-Course Perspectives on Military Service, edited by Janet M. Wilmoth and Andrew S. London. New York: Routledge.
2012. Book Review: Is Marriage for White People? International Journal of Sociology of the Family, 38(1):121-123.
2011. Book Review: Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman: Voice and the Embodiment of a Costly Performance; Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class; Black Women, Cultural Images, and Social Policy; and Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 37(1): 240-247.
2009. Book Review: Blue-Chip Black: Race, Class, and Status in the New Black Middle Class, with Caitlin Cross-Barnet. Journal of Marriage and Family 71 (2): 209–436.
2009. “(In)Visibility Blues: The Paradox of Institutional Racism,” with Adia Harvey Wingfield. Sociological Spectrum 29(1): 28-50.
2007. Embracing Sisterhood: Class, Identity, and Contemporary Black Women. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.