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These Walls Between Us: A Memoir of Friendship across Race and Class

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A white woman reflects on a sixty-year interracial friendship lived in a context of white supremacy.


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A white woman reflects on a sixty-year interracial friendship lived in a context of white supremacy.

30 review for These Walls Between Us: A Memoir of Friendship across Race and Class

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peterson Toscano

    Memoir can be so tricky; it requires an author with humility and clarity to reveal as much truth about a life as possible. Wendy Sanford honestly explores her life of privilege without self-flagellation or self-congratulation. Instead, she exposes what she learned from a society that attempted to keep her distracted from the reality of class and racial differences in America. That is an applaudable feat in itself, but what makes These Walls Between Us: A Memoir of Friendship across Race and Clas Memoir can be so tricky; it requires an author with humility and clarity to reveal as much truth about a life as possible. Wendy Sanford honestly explores her life of privilege without self-flagellation or self-congratulation. Instead, she exposes what she learned from a society that attempted to keep her distracted from the reality of class and racial differences in America. That is an applaudable feat in itself, but what makes These Walls Between Us: A Memoir of Friendship across Race and Class well worth recommending is Wendy Sanford's skill as a non-fiction author. She expertly uses the techniques of a novelist to fill her narrative with descriptions that make each scene come alive. Her insights are profound and challenging, but she never scolds herself or others as she fearlessly seeks to see and understand and grow. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to deepen their understanding of race, class, and gender in the USA.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah 🌺 Books in Their Natural Habitat

    These Walls Between Us explores a sixty-year interracial friendship between two women beginning in the 1950s. I really liked how Wendy spent time explaining situations and things that were said that might seem “normal” to some, and offers a different perspective to understand how those simple statements can be problematic. Not only does this book get into race issues, it explores class issues from somewhat of a sociology point of view. In some ways, we as a society have cultivated our own class These Walls Between Us explores a sixty-year interracial friendship between two women beginning in the 1950s. I really liked how Wendy spent time explaining situations and things that were said that might seem “normal” to some, and offers a different perspective to understand how those simple statements can be problematic. Not only does this book get into race issues, it explores class issues from somewhat of a sociology point of view. In some ways, we as a society have cultivated our own class and race issues and our automatic reactions and assumptions continue to perpetuate those situations. I appreciated that two very different perspectives highlighted what has and is still happening to provide education and reflection in an approachable manner. For those of you interested in race and class discussions, I highly recommend you take the time to read this memoir. I’d also recommend it for those participating in Non-Fiction November. Thank you to @getredprbooks for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book. This review expresses my own personal opinions.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bookoholiccafe

    These Walls Between Us by Wendy Sanford Is a memoir of friendship between race and class. Wendy Stanford beautifully tells the story of her 60-year friendship with Mary Norman, their friendship started when they were both teenagers. and it only grew stronger through the 60s, 70s, and 80s cultural revolution. I was excited to read about Mary Norman’s achievements and enjoyed reading about this friendship. “For decades, I failed to register or analyze the wealth gap between Mary and me. I accepted These Walls Between Us by Wendy Sanford Is a memoir of friendship between race and class. Wendy Stanford beautifully tells the story of her 60-year friendship with Mary Norman, their friendship started when they were both teenagers. and it only grew stronger through the 60s, 70s, and 80s cultural revolution. I was excited to read about Mary Norman’s achievements and enjoyed reading about this friendship. “For decades, I failed to register or analyze the wealth gap between Mary and me. I accepted as a given that most Black people lived in tired wooden homes like the ones along my mother's Witherspoon Street shortcut. This is one of the ways that white supremacy works. I, an "educated' person, remained ignorant of all the ways the class difference between Mary and me had been socially constructed over three hundred years, from enslavement to sharecropping, from Jim Crow to restrictive housing policies.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Iris Graville

    This memoir is powerful, humbling, instructive, and inspiring. Sanford's honesty and self-reflection were especially moving for me. I've recommended the book to many, and my book group has selected it for our next read. This memoir is powerful, humbling, instructive, and inspiring. Sanford's honesty and self-reflection were especially moving for me. I've recommended the book to many, and my book group has selected it for our next read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joe Panzica

    Picture a bright summer day. It’s Nantucket in 1956. A proper New England beach house looks out to the sea. On its porch stands a twelve year old girl. Before her on the sand, exposed to the sun, lounges the mother. Behind this girl in the house “the new help,” a sixteen year old, vacuums. From the vantage of the younger girl, the sound of a vacuum cleaner is comforting. It means she and her family are being cared for, and she sees her Mom as a lithe blonde movie star. Soon we’re told Mom’s maid Picture a bright summer day. It’s Nantucket in 1956. A proper New England beach house looks out to the sea. On its porch stands a twelve year old girl. Before her on the sand, exposed to the sun, lounges the mother. Behind this girl in the house “the new help,” a sixteen year old, vacuums. From the vantage of the younger girl, the sound of a vacuum cleaner is comforting. It means she and her family are being cared for, and she sees her Mom as a lithe blonde movie star. Soon we’re told Mom’s maiden name was Riker Van Vechten. Her Riker ancestors had once sold some real estate to the city of New York, a once arable island in the East River which still bears the family name. “These Walls Between Us” is about the two girls. One, twelve year old Wendy, has become the author. Starting in the 1970s with "Our Bodies Ourselves", Wendy Sanford has long been working in the same direction as another New England writer: Bob Moses (author of "Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project"). They confront the same questions. How do people extricate themselves from their immediate and concrete circumstances when these are seen to be limiting–or toxic. Does one “rise” above them? And how do people from vastly different backgrounds transcend those differences to make common cause? Do they really? How might it be shown that this is possible? Wendy Sanford's writing forces us to confront the very notion of superiority. She does through exploring her relationship (persisting for over sixty years now) with the slightly older girl, now Mary Norman, a Black woman who long did domestic service in her parents' homes. She does this by crafting a series of unforgettable stories involving interactions between the two and, just as importantly, some of their relationships with Wendy’s parents. Interwoven through and around these stories are what Wendy Sanford calls, “the work.” Weaving analyses of social patterns into personal narratives is not a traditional way of telling stories, but it may help us work our way into the types of new stories that might make a difference when it comes to harms caused by powerful forces like white supremacy racism. In this context, Wendy Sanford's newest book tells us about her particular life (one she has reason to insist has been "privileged") and how she is trying to stretch herself beyond its confines. Her stretch is, in part, a cognitive one, but one engaged in stories, and stories touch us in so many ways within and beyond our (flitting or solidified) thoughts and notions. Even if we spend little or no time reading, writing, or watching fabricated forms of drama, we are all crafting and responding to stories. What’s clear is that even superficially simple stories can encapsulate one or many talismans replete with symbolic import for others to incorporate, distort, and pass on. And we boil ourselves in tragedy. This is what Wendy Sanford is tapping into as she weaves various story types together in her memoir of friendship across race and class. Like a physician she seeks to surgically excise and then inoculate herself and others against any lure of superiority and its devastating consequences. (What we think of as a “soul doctor'' has been encapsulated as a fussy older Germanic man peering over a female figure stretched out on a couch. Funny, how that works. Funny.) The human mind is an abstraction engaged in a clashing universe of forces we only dimly conceive (if at all), and none of us can ignore the ways ours ache to stretch and expand. Not all of us will frequently choose to focus our powers of abstraction in a disciplined way to either manipulate equations or to craft and record stories, but we all must live “in a world” created, in part, by stories and governed, to some degree, by algorithms. This is true whether or not we’re aware of it or even try (or not) to understand how all this might work. Though good stories might appear to be, they can never be simple. Wendy Sanford has done quite a job of work to help us see the complexities and the challenges in ways that do not merely daunt us, but encourage us to look to ourselves for courage, wit, and maybe some love to do our own kind of “work”.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Shepherd

    I loved this beautifully-written, thought-provoking, timely and ultimately hopeful book about two women trying to scale the walls of a destructive social construct centuries in the making. The author is so honest about her missteps in trying to bridge the gap between her white, upper-middle class life and that of her friend, Mary Norman, who came from a black working-class background. The two met when Mary worked as a maid for Wendy’s family. For those of us who aspire to be white allies, this i I loved this beautifully-written, thought-provoking, timely and ultimately hopeful book about two women trying to scale the walls of a destructive social construct centuries in the making. The author is so honest about her missteps in trying to bridge the gap between her white, upper-middle class life and that of her friend, Mary Norman, who came from a black working-class background. The two met when Mary worked as a maid for Wendy’s family. For those of us who aspire to be white allies, this is such an eye-opening book, especially when Sanford deals with her unwitting contributions—through micro aggressions and other thoughtless manifestations of her white privilege. This is a book I will refer to again and again and will recommend to family and friends. This is not the first time the author has raised my awareness. A 49-year-old copy of OUR BODIES OURSELVES sits on my bookshelf. I pulled it out recently and remembered what a wonder it was to first read Wendy Sanford as a major voice of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. She enlightened me then , and THESE WALLS BETWEEN US is enlightening me now. The ultimate goal of both Wendy Sanford and Mary Norman is for white readers to become aware and active in the ongoing movement for racial justice. This book is an important contribution to tearing down the walls between us.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    These Walls Between Us was an eye-opening experience. While Wendy Sanford recounts her budding friendship that spans decades, we also learn about the cultural and racial divides that made their relationship unlikely. I appreciated how she broke down the various moments in her life where she at first hadn’t recognized those divides, due to the normalcy that had been placed on those types of behaviors while she was growing up in New England. It also amazed me how Mary continued to work for Wendy’s These Walls Between Us was an eye-opening experience. While Wendy Sanford recounts her budding friendship that spans decades, we also learn about the cultural and racial divides that made their relationship unlikely. I appreciated how she broke down the various moments in her life where she at first hadn’t recognized those divides, due to the normalcy that had been placed on those types of behaviors while she was growing up in New England. It also amazed me how Mary continued to work for Wendy’s parents even into adulthood, and the complicated ties that had developed between them. Along with trying to develop a better way to understand and appreciate Mary, we also get an inside look into what life was like for someone who grew up during a time when women’s rights were perilous. The relationship between Wendy’s parents–where women are better seen, not heard–spoke volumes on the strides taken to change that viewpoint, particularly in the ways in which Wendy attempts to improve on that, by later becoming one of the strong voices in creating Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book that addresses sexuality and reproductive health. I had a strong feeling that had Wendy not had the types of influences she had growing up–her parents, her friend Mary–it would have never happened. It was obvious that what she’d seen and witnessed growing up really influenced who she has become today. Adult friendships can be hard enough. Wendy addresses that, and the strides and at times, steps back that were taken with Wendy, on both sides of the coin. I also appreciated the footnotes that Wendy adds to the story, so she can go more in-depth and better explain certain concepts and experiences. I truly feel that my “narrow, white” viewpoint has been opened up due to reading the stories highlighted in These Walls Between Us, a much-needed, five-star read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rektok Ross

    I don’t often read memoir but just finished this eye opening book about a many years long friendship between two very different women and how they bridged the gap and many obstacles between them to become great friends. Too often we see women in the media and entertainment who tear each other down so this was a lovely change to see a friendship grow stronger through the ages and how it made both women better to know one another. I can see why this book has won so many awards. Really appreciate t I don’t often read memoir but just finished this eye opening book about a many years long friendship between two very different women and how they bridged the gap and many obstacles between them to become great friends. Too often we see women in the media and entertainment who tear each other down so this was a lovely change to see a friendship grow stronger through the ages and how it made both women better to know one another. I can see why this book has won so many awards. Really appreciate the honesty of the author on a subject that can be difficult for some to address,but is so important to talk about so we all can grow. An important read for anyone wanting to learn more about systemic racial and class violence—why it happens and how we can all help to stop it. 


  9. 4 out of 5

    Ann Lane

    This was a very moving and well-written book about the close relationship between a Black domestic worker and the adult daughter of the White family employer. The author deals honestly with her struggles to accept the chasm that race has inserted into their friendship. I found this to be a book that will live within me as I attempt to close the obvious separation that inserts itself in my relationships with Blacks. This author has awakened me to be aware and alert and sensitive as I try to bridg This was a very moving and well-written book about the close relationship between a Black domestic worker and the adult daughter of the White family employer. The author deals honestly with her struggles to accept the chasm that race has inserted into their friendship. I found this to be a book that will live within me as I attempt to close the obvious separation that inserts itself in my relationships with Blacks. This author has awakened me to be aware and alert and sensitive as I try to bridge across racial barriers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    This beautifully written and compelling memoir traces the author's life of privilege and the lessons she learned from Mary Norman, her family's Black part-time domestic worker who, over decades of exchange and learning, becomes her dear friend. I found the story exceedingly thought-provoking and occasionally heartbreaking. Sanford weaves her discoveries about race into the broader context of race relations in America. As she does, she reminds us that all loving relationships require two people w This beautifully written and compelling memoir traces the author's life of privilege and the lessons she learned from Mary Norman, her family's Black part-time domestic worker who, over decades of exchange and learning, becomes her dear friend. I found the story exceedingly thought-provoking and occasionally heartbreaking. Sanford weaves her discoveries about race into the broader context of race relations in America. As she does, she reminds us that all loving relationships require two people who care enough to ask questions and listen.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    Wendy’s story is beautifully told. She shares with us the joys and missteps of building an intentional friendship over racial and class divides. Wendy is bold in relating her inevitable assumptions of white superiority learned while growing up in a white upper class household; she is humble in sharing her slow and deep unlearning of that system; and she is thought-provoking in sharing with us a model of personal action and reckoning. That the story is inviting and enjoying on top of all that is Wendy’s story is beautifully told. She shares with us the joys and missteps of building an intentional friendship over racial and class divides. Wendy is bold in relating her inevitable assumptions of white superiority learned while growing up in a white upper class household; she is humble in sharing her slow and deep unlearning of that system; and she is thought-provoking in sharing with us a model of personal action and reckoning. That the story is inviting and enjoying on top of all that is an amazing gift of her writing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Diana_bibliophile

    This is another little book I read for #NonFictionNovember The story explores a sixty-year friendship between two women of different race and class during the beginning of the 1950’s. I think the author did an excellent job in discussing situations in which we have come to see as “normal,” but explains how some statements can be problematic. I enjoyed reading the evolution of their friendship the social changes of each decade. This book is for people wanting to navigate race and class. Thank you @ This is another little book I read for #NonFictionNovember The story explores a sixty-year friendship between two women of different race and class during the beginning of the 1950’s. I think the author did an excellent job in discussing situations in which we have come to see as “normal,” but explains how some statements can be problematic. I enjoyed reading the evolution of their friendship the social changes of each decade. This book is for people wanting to navigate race and class. Thank you @getredprbooks, the author @wendysanford320 and publisher #shewritespress for the gifted copy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rod Snavely

    This is a book written for white Americans to begin to understand the lives of black Americans, specifically domestic workers. There are a lot of references to the reading the author did over many years as she came to grips with the way her family treated the woman who was their summer maid on Nantucket Island. I recommend this book to help you along the way of understanding the depth of racism in the United States.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    These Walls Between Us by Wendy Sanford is very good in highlighting the need to think about relationships when there are class/racial/economic/etc. differences between people. As Wendy Sanford explained her life and journey, I thought of my own. I thought of my friendships with people who did not and do not have the same opportunities as I have had for education, work situations, neighborhoods, etc. This book is a must read for anyone who questions 'status' and friendships. These Walls Between Us by Wendy Sanford is very good in highlighting the need to think about relationships when there are class/racial/economic/etc. differences between people. As Wendy Sanford explained her life and journey, I thought of my own. I thought of my friendships with people who did not and do not have the same opportunities as I have had for education, work situations, neighborhoods, etc. This book is a must read for anyone who questions 'status' and friendships.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Diane Wald

    This book is a tour de force: thoroughly researched, fiercely honest, and generously illuminated with fascinating quotes and references. Highly recommended for readers who seek a complex and rewarding memoir.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adele Holmes

    An illuminating piece that looks at life on each side of a race and class divide. Timely, thoughtfully written, thought provoking.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joni

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jami Hart

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol Petersen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melody (OhTheBooksSheWillRead) Hawkins

  22. 4 out of 5

    Anna Cavallino

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lori

  24. 4 out of 5

    Annie McDonnell

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kiana

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Get Red PR Books

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jana

  29. 4 out of 5

    Priscilla Oppenheimer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dena Akbar

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