Lacey Schwartz (1977- ) was a Jewish girl who did not know she was Black till she was 18.
She grew up in Woodstock, two hours north of New York City. Her parents were both White. White people accepted her as White, but asked why she looked different. She said what her father said, that her great grandfather was Sicilian.
At age 11, she still thought of herself as White, yet felt out of place, felt ugly, wished her skin was lighter.
At 16, her parents split up and, for the first time, she went to a school with plenty of Black students. They asked her, in so many words, why she was passing for White.
One day when she was walking down the street with her boyfriend, people assumed they were brother and sister. He was mixed-race!
By now she knew deep down she was not White, but could not admit it to herself. When she applied to Georgetown University and came to the box where you check race, she did not know what to put! She did not check anything. Georgetown wound up checking it for her: Black, based on her picture.
At Georgetown, the Black student union invited her to join. She did. She was afraid they would not accept her, that she would not fit in, that they would ask what she was. It was nothing like that:
“For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. And somehow I just knew that Black is who I was.”
Her “bad” hair became “good” hair. Her “dark” skin became “light” skin. The ugly duckling became a swan.
When she came back home for the summer after her first year at Georgetown, she asked her mother why she looked different. Her mother told her that she had had an affair with a Black man, someone Schwartz knew as a “family friend”.
Schwartz continued to live as a Black woman out in the world, but remained White at home: to “come out” as Black would lay bare her mother’s secret.
For 12 years she remained silent, afraid of losing her father, the only true father she had ever known.
And during all those 12 years, her father – already knew. It was part of why he had split up with her mother.
In time, she found it unbearable living an identity based on lies and family secrets. It meant she did not know who she truly was.
So she got to the bottom of it by making a documentary film: “Little White Lie” (2014). It became an anatomy of denial.
Her mother hated it at first, but in the end she was glad: it freed her too from living in a world of lies and the guilt that comes with it. And, instead of losing her father, it made her relationship with him way better.
It does not escape Schwartz’s notice that her family is like the US as a whole. Or like Israel: she went there to show the film to both Arabs and Jews.
– Abagond, 2015.
- David Myers: a black boy who thought he was white
- Sandra Laing: a black girl born to white parents
- Skin – the film. Excellent.
- James McBride: The Color of Water – another Jewish mother with secrets that screw up her child’s sense of identity
- passing for White