UnCommon Bonds

Women Reflect on Race and Friendship

by Kersha Smith (Volume editor) Marcella Runell Hall (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XVI, 230 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 372


UnCommon Bonds is a collection of essays written by women representing multiple identities; all uniquely addressing the impactful experiences of race, ethnicity, and friendship in the context of the United States. The essays unapologetically explore the challenges of developing and maintaining cross-racial friendships between women. A primary goal of this book is to resist simplifying cross-racial friendships. Instinctively, the editors believe that there is a unique joy and pain in these relationships that is rarely easy to summarize. The essays reflect narratives that challenge assumptions, disclose deep interpersonal struggles, and celebrate the complex sisterhood between women across racial lines.
For more information, please visit: www.uncommonbondsbook.com

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for UnCommon Bonds
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword (Sonia Nieto)
  • Reference
  • Introduction (Kersha Smith / Marcella Runell Hall)
  • References
  • Chapter 1: Of My Purple Life (Joicelyn Dingle)
  • Womanist
  • References
  • Chapter 2: It’s All About the Rhythm: Birthing Sisterhood (Stacey Gibson / Jessica Havens)
  • Conversation Jump-Off: How Have Your Friendships With Women of Other Races and Ethnicities Evolved or Devolved Over Time?
  • Chapter 3: “When You Do It to Me, It’s Racism” (Robin DiAngelo)
  • Individualism
  • Carefulness
  • Colonialism
  • In Conclusion
  • Reference
  • Chapter 4: Filiation (Nelle Mills)
  • Chapter 5: The Support I Need (Liza A. Talusan)
  • References
  • Chapter 6: Marginal Friendship: An Exploration of Culture, Privilege, and Sisterhood (Jodi Van Der Horn-Gibson / Christina Marín)
  • Mise-en-Scène
  • Discomfort Is Revelatory: Cross-Cultural Relationships
  • “Don’t Call Me a Racist”—Critical Consciousness and Hegemonic Ideology
  • Intersectionality and Privilege: Subverting the Dominant Paradigm
  • Epistemes, Paradigms, and Pink Elephants: Intersectional Sisterhood
  • Mise-en-Scène: Part Deux
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Friends in Real Life (Thembisa S. Mshaka)
  • Chapter 8: Race Is a Factor, Not a Foundation (Amber Buggs)
  • Reference
  • Chapter 9: Across the Abyss (Millicent R. Jackson)
  • Reference
  • Chapter 10: Dear Sis/Love, Sis (Felice Belle / Anne Murphy)
  • Letters
  • References
  • Chapter 11: Choosing Each Other: Love, Friendship, and Racism (Jennifer M. D. Matos / Gail E. Norskey)
  • Jen and Gail
  • Chapter 12: Black, White, and Brown: A Collaborative Autoethnography Analyzing the Race and Friendship of Three Women in Academia (S. Lenise Wallace / Eman Mosharafa / Joni Schwartz)
  • Introduction
  • Beginnings
  • Critical Race Theory and Interracial Friendship
  • Therapeutic Counterspace
  • Racial Identity
  • Defining Race
  • Race’s Role in an Interracial Friendship
  • Summary and Discussion
  • References
  • Chapter 13: A Joyful Dance Between Friends: The Story of Our Hindu–Muslim, Jewish–Christian Friendship (Mira Sengupta / Samantha González-Block)
  • Introduction
  • Reflecting Through Mira’s Eyes
  • Reflecting Through Samantha’s Eyes
  • Closing Thoughts
  • References
  • Chapter 14: Sliding Doors, Intentional Choices (Paulette Dalpes / Berenecea Johnson Eanes)
  • Why Is Our Relationship Uncommon?
  • Who We Are
  • The Glue
  • The Blossom
  • The Armor
  • The Privilege
  • Intersectionality
  • Owning It
  • Planning for Long-Term Love
  • References
  • Chapter 15: Ride Or Die: Relationships Beyond Constructs (JLove Calderón)
  • Chapter 16: Letters (Roberta Samet / Imani Romney-Rosa)
  • September 29, 2015
  • September 30, 2015
  • September 30, 2015
  • October 1, 2015
  • October 1, 2015
  • October 2, 2015
  • October 4, 2015
  • October 4, 2015
  • October 4, 2015
  • October 4, 2015
  • October 7, 2015
  • October 8, 2015
  • October 11, 2015
  • October 14, 2015
  • October 17, 2015
  • October 17, 2015
  • October 19, 2015
  • October 22, 2015
  • October 22, 2015
  • October 22, 2015
  • October 24, 2015
  • November 2, 2015
  • November 5, 2015
  • November 6, 2015
  • November 6, 2015
  • References
  • Chapter 17: “The Ladies Salon”: Building Intellectual and Personal Collective(s) (Rani Varghese / Allia Abdullah-Matta / Hye-Kyung Kang)
  • Introduction
  • Individual Journeys
  • Navigating Higher Education
  • The Ladies’ Salon: A Revolutionary Solidarity
  • References
  • Chapter 18: The “Crazy White Lady” and Other Archetypes in Workplace Friendships, Boundaries, and Power (Deinya Phenix)
  • Introduction
  • What Led Me to This Issue and How I Set Out to Find More About It
  • Friendships at Work?
  • Race Relations at Work
  • Some Observations
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter 19: Trust (Keisha L. Green)
  • Black Women Vote for Clinton; White Women Vote for Trump
  • Women’s March
  • Black Girl’s Rock
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Afterword: Crossing (Jamila Lyiscott)
  • Contributors
  • Series index

| ix →


This project was indeed a labor of love, through all of the seasons, and the ups and downs of life. A huge thank you to Shirley R. Steinberg for believing in this book right from its inception and to the whole team at Peter Lang, including Patty Mulrane and our production editor, Janell Harris. Thank you to all of the contributors who shared their stories, accepted our feedback with loving kindness, and stayed with us as the project came to life. Thank you to Sonia Nieto for penning a beautiful foreword to the book and for being so authentic in every way. Thank you to all of our colleagues who offered advance praise for UnCommon Bonds; your support and belief in this project are above and beyond what we could have hoped for.

Big thanks to Christy Herbes for bringing to life the cover design. A special thanks to April Graham for serving as our beloved intern. Your passion and dedication to the project was a godsend. Thanks to April Silver for believing in us and assisting with the press release and sharing our project with the world. Thank you, Loryn Engelbrecht, for co-creating a beautiful web presence.

Thank you to our colleagues at Mount Holyoke, NYU, and CUNY and in particular Annette, Alicia, Beth, Brenda, Elena, Erin, Karen, Latrina, Michelle, Monroe, Leah, and Rachel. ← ix | x →

To all our sister friends in Amherst, Aurora, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Ocean City, especially Allana, Amy, Ann, Anne (RIP), Ayana, Bindi, Claudine, Dana, Daniella, Debora, Deva, Dottie, Edwina, Elaine, Elisha, Ella, Emily, Felicia, Fran, Giselle, Heather, JC, JLove, Jamielle, Jessica, Jill, Joicelyn, Julie, Heather, Hiabiba, Karen, Karyn, Keisha, Kelly, Landi, Lara, Linda, Lisa, Liza, Lori, Lynda, Marit, Mario, Marjorie, Martha, Mary, Melissa, Meghan, Michelle, Millicent, Monica, Nadine, Naima, Nicole, Nitasha, Oya’s Elements, Pat, Patty, Piper, Rachel, Rani, Rha, Romina, Rosa, Sally, Sara, Seble, Shadia, Shaurnee, Shireen, Sofia, Tanesha, Tara, Vanessa, Whitney, Yael, Yolanda, Xiomara, and Zahra. To the Esdaile, Hall, Runell, Smith, and Toney families, thank you for your warmth and unconditional love. Finally, thank you to our husbands, James and Dave, for being our biggest champions and sources of support.

| xi →


Sonia Nieto

As is abundantly clear from the chapters in this book, forming and sustaining friendships across racial, cultural, generational, and other social differences is not easy. Reading these narratives helped me reflect on the friendships I’ve had over the years, some with Puerto Rican women like me, and others with women of different backgrounds. Given the communities in which I’ve lived—Brooklyn for most of my youth and young adulthood, Manhattan for a year shortly after I married, Queens for three years as a young wife and mother, and for the past 40-plus years, a small town in Massachusetts—I realized that although my friendships have been quite diverse, the closest ones have often been with other Puerto Rican women. I remember a day a couple of decades ago after a particularly thorny racial incident in town when I was asked to address an assembly in our local high school. After speaking with the students about the significance of cross-racial and cross-cultural friendships, a student asked me, “Who are your best friends?” I’ve always counted a very diverse group among my closest friendships. But the question made me think more deeply about this issue. I answered that my closest friend was another Puerto Rican woman and that my other close friends were African American, Jewish, Italian American, and women of other backgrounds. What we had in common was that most of us now living in Massachusetts had been raised in ← xi | xii → New York. Sometimes geography is just as binding as race or ethnicity. At the same time, I’m happy to say that after all these years of living in Massachusetts, I have friends who fall outside of those perimeters as well.

But race and culture do matter, and they often matter a great deal. As I explained to the students that day, it’s far easier to make friends with people who are like you, who share your ethnicity, race, language, and social class, among other differences. When that’s the case, there’s little need to explain things; you can speak in shorthand. For instance, with my Puerto Rican friends, we can switch back and forth from English to Spanish to Spanglish, and we can be pretty sure that we’ll easily understand one another. I don’t need to explain to other Puerto Rican women why my parents were upset the first time I went out for New Year’s Eve rather than spend it at their home—and I was 24 years old, married, and with a baby! Other Puerto Rican women of my generation would have immediately understood why: holidays are sacrosanct in most Puerto Rican families and females especially are expected to be with their families on those days. I also don’t need to explain why I never learned to ride a bike. Many Puerto Rican females who grew up in New York during the 1950s and before had the same experience, a combination of overprotective parents and an ingrained sexism that “girls don’t ride bikes” (largely absent nowadays, I’m glad to say).

Yes, same-culture relationships tend to be easier, as familiar as old slippers and just as comfortable. However, it is far too simplistic to leave it at that because there’s more to it than ethnicity or race. Being of the same background doesn’t necessarily mean that other differences don’t exist or matter. My best friend is Puerto Rican, true, but while she had a relatively privileged childhood, mine was definitely working class. Even after over 40 years of friendship, I don’t “get” some of her experiences and she doesn’t understand some of mine. Other Puerto Rican friends are also quite different from me in different ways: some were raised in Puerto Rico, whereas I was raised in New York, and this alone helps define starkly different childhoods. And there are numerous other differences that fall outside of race and ethnicity, including sexual orientation, family structure, and others that influence us differently.

But the fact that same-race/ethnic relationships are usually easier doesn’t mean that the “uncommon bonds” of cross-racial/ethnic relationships are not also meaningful and can even be glorious. I don’t know where I’d be—in my head, in my values, in my actions—without the friendships I’ve had over the years with women of backgrounds different from mine. These friends have ← xii | xiii → been my teachers and mentors, opening my eyes to new sights, sounds, tastes, and perspectives. They have questioned my preconceptions and shattered my stereotypes (we all have them, after all, regardless of our identity). These friends have expanded my mind, introducing me to different ways of being and thinking. They have, in so many ways, enriched my life, and I hope I have done the same for them.

Of course, it generally takes more work and no small measure of patience and empathy to form and sustain cross-racial/ethnic relationships because, just like new shoes, they need a breaking-in period. An offhand remark or a hurtful comment—as you’ll read in a number of these chapters—can permanently destroy or critically wound such friendships. But once they’ve been broken in, with years of sisterhood and struggle to strengthen whatever may shake them, these friendships are often just as comfortable as the friendships we have with our co-ethnics. But it takes time and hard work.

The chapters in this book are powerful, heartfelt, endearing, and sometimes painful to read. Often, race takes center stage. At other times, race is rarely mentioned. This can be negative, according to Millicent Jackson, as when white privilege, the “very thing that can murky the waters of an interracial friendship,” goes unacknowledged. Or it can be positive, as Thembisa Mishaka writes in her chapter, “to see difference and acknowledge difference, without racializing every interaction.” Sometimes—but not often—such friendships can transcend race, as suggested in some of the chapters.

What brings all these chapters together is what Jeff Duncan-Andrade has called “critical hope” (see Duncan-Andrade, 2009). Though he has used the concept to refer to urban youths and their teachers, his message is equally significant for women engaged in cross-racial, cross-cultural friendships. Duncan-Andrade contrasts the concept of false hope with critical hope, that is, a hope that rejects hopelessness and demands active struggle and commitment. Critical hope, then, is founded on the idea that regardless of difficult and sometimes even seemingly insurmountable barriers, women’s friendships across boundaries of race, ethnicity, and other differences can thrive.

As you will see in the narratives that follow, in spite of what may seem to be intractable cultural differences and difficult historical realities, women of different backgrounds can nevertheless create mutually nurturing “uncommon bonds.” The friendships they describe—for all their love and sisterhood, and despite their warts and problems—can serve as examples for all ← xiii | xiv → of us, men, women, and children, who want to forge a path to a new reality in our nation.

Sonia Nieto

Professor Emerita,

Language, Literacy, and Culture,

College of Education

University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Duncan-Andrade, J. (2009). Note to educators: Hope required when growing flowers in concrete. Harvard Educational Review, 79(2), 181–194.


XVI, 230
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 230 pp., 2 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Kersha Smith (Volume editor) Marcella Runell Hall (Volume editor)

Kersha Smith, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York, Queensborough Community College. Kersha has been published in Pedagogy, Culture & Society, The Journal of Social Issues, and Transformative Dialogues, among other journals. She is a recipient of the Spencer Foundation’s Discipline Based Studies in Education Fellowship, Calvin W. Ruck Award, and The Larry Murphy Award by the Adult Higher Education Alliance. Marcella Runell Hall, Ed.D., is Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students at Mount Holyoke College. Marcella has a doctorate in social justice education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a masters of arts in higher education administration from New York University, and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Marcella has previously edited four books and contributed chapters to several book projects, as well as published her work in VIBE, Equity & Excellence in Education, and the New York Times Learning Network. Marcella has received numerous awards from NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) and was the recipient of the K. Patricia Cross Future Scholar’s Award given by the AAC&U (Association for American College’s and Universities).


Title: UnCommon Bonds