black women

Jewish woman didn’t know she was half black

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lacyOn Sunday, Lacey Schwartz’ “Little White Lie,” a documentary about her growing up without acknowledging she was part black, will premier at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Schwartz, a 37-year-old filmmaker, went through childhood with a Jewish mother and father in the majority-white town of Woodstock, New York. Schwartz, who had brown-toned skin and dark, curly locks, was told that her appearance came from taking after her Sicilian grandfather. But people around her noticed there was something different about her.

She recalled when she was a child and a white boy in her nursery school became “fascinated” with her features. “One day he came to school…and then he said to me, “Show me your gums, because if your gums are white then you’re white, and if your gums are black then you’re black,” Schwartz said in a Truth Aid video. She also remembered when a synagogue member at her bat mitzvah mistook her for an Ethiopian Jew.

“I was already questioning my whiteness because of what other people said and because I was aware that I looked different from my family,” the New York Times quoted Schwartz as saying in a recent interview. But after sending Georgetown University a photo of her along with her application to the school, Schwartz was finally forced to uncover the mystery of her ancestry.

The school forwarded her information to its black student association, and they contacted her. Schwartz said that her experience with Georgetown gave her “permission” to explore a black identity. She said the black students at the University embraced her.

After her freshman year, she decided to confront her mother about her true ethnicity. She said it was then that her mother, Peggy, revealed that her biological father, an African American, was a family friend with whom she had an extramarital affair. He passed away when Schwartz was 29.

Lacey and others in the ethnic-Jewish community hope that through sharing her racial obliviousness in “Little White Lie,” other Jews of color will be able to embrace their identity. “Lacey’s story is more complex than many, but it’s a way for people to talk about their history,” said Diane Tobin, founder and chief executive of Be’chol Lashon, a national advocacy group for Jews of color. “All identities are more permeable now, and we see young Jews who want to develop a more diverse community.”

Schwartz said that learning about her identity has liberated her, but it has also changed the way she views the world. “It’s how you’re seeing interactions, how comments come across to you,” the filmmaker said. “When you’re in a town, are you aware of how many people of color are there? Are you aware when you’re in a work environment?”

“There are benefits to being white— for me, it’s walking into a space with a potential sense of entitlement,” she added.

Although Schwartz missed out on embracing her black heritage for several years of her life, she said that because of her unique experience, she was allowed the privilege of viewing the world through two very different lenses. “I genuinely experienced what it is to be black and what it is to be white,” Schwartz said.

“Little White Lie” will air on PBS next year.