Meet the Black woman raised to believe she was white, until she clocked 18…

“Throughout my life, people have asked me why I look the way I do,” says Lacey Schwartz. “I would tell them that my parents were white, which was true. I wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t. I grew up being told, and believing, that I was the nice, white, Jewish daughter of two nice, white, Jewish parents.”

But Schwartz, a 38-year-old film-maker, has brown skin, curly hair and full lips. It was only when she was 18 that her mother admitted the truth: that she had had an affair with a friend and former colleague who was black. And that, in all likelihood, he was Lacey’s biological father.The revelation not only shook her relationship with her mother to the core, but also led Schwartz to question everything she had believed about who she was, and eventually inspired her to make a documentary about the experience, called Little White Lie.
“I started out wanting to make a film about being black and Jewish, because I was really struggling with my dual identity,” she says. “But I was living in a racial closet at the time that was all about my family secret. So I decided to use the film as a way to fully uncover the secret.”

When we meet, last month’s reports about Rachel Dolezal, the American civil rights campaigner who made headlines around the world by claiming that, despite being white, she “identifies as black”, are still to break. But Schwartz tells me she believes that racial identity is “fluid and contextual”.

“I think it can change depending on where you are and who you’re around,” she says. The film shows Schwartz and two black female friends discussing the “one drop rule”: the idea that if a person has even the smallest amount of black heritage, they are black. “Being bi-racial, mixed race, is a category of being black, not a category of being white,” Schwartz believes. “It’s an inclusive thing.”

We meet in New York’s SoHo on a sunny afternoon. Having spent most of her adult life in the city, Schwartz now lives in New Jersey with her lawyer husband, Antonio Delgado, and their 18-month-old twins.

Schwartz describes her own childhood, in the countryside near Woodstock in upstate New York, as “solid, comfortable, loving”. Her father, Robert, was an accountant, and her mother, Peggy, owned a wine shop.

Although Lacey was an only child, she was close to her numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. “I came from a long line of New York Jews, the great-granddaughter of Eastern European immigrants,” she says. “We went to the synagogue, bar mitzvahs, Hebrew school. My family knew who they were, and they defined who I was.”

Leafy, middle-class Woodstock was a liberal town but it was also very white. Schwartz has a vivid memory of being five and a little blond boy in her all-white kindergarten class asking her to show him the colour of her gums. “It was the first time I remember feeling different,” she recalls. “I already knew I didn’t look like the other kids at school, but it was embarrassing to be singled out, and it made me feel ugly.”Afterwards, Schwartz asked her parents why she looked different, and her father showed her a picture of his great-grandfather, a brooding, Moorish-looking Sicilian, and told her that she must take after him.

And that, she says, simply became the accepted story. “You know how things are within families,” she shrugs. “You know what you know, and you reinforce that truth all the time. If you looked too closely at it, it didn’t make any sense. So we didn’t look at it.”

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But others sometimes took a peek; new friends would often ask if she was adopted, while established friends silently accepted the story they’d been told. One old friend admits she “knew Lacey looked black, but that she wasn’t”.

A family friend refers to the issue as “the 600lb gorilla in the room”, which would occasionally beat its chest. Aged 11, Schwartz wrote in her diary that she wished she had lighter skin, and that she hated her curly hair.

When she was 13, a member of the synagogue told her that it was “so nice to have an Ethiopian Jew in our presence”. And at high school, “The black kids would stare at me and ask, ‘What are you?’ I’d tell them I was white. But I was in denial too; I had my blinkers on.”

In Lacey’s mid-teens, Robert and Peggy’s marriage began to unravel.

“Their divorce was really hard; it completely shook my world,” Schwartz says. She believes that her mother’s affair was a factor in the break-up – although as she discovered while making the film, it wasn’t something her parents had ever openly discussed.

Her father, she later found out, suspected that something had happened but had only said so once, telling Peggy they should “put it behind them and move on” – he preferred to keep his blinkers on, too.

“I don’t think affairs are necessarily the cause of break-ups, they’re usually symptoms,” says Schwartz. “Relationships are complicated – why did my mother have an affair in the first place?”Their divorce had a major impact on her. “My family had been this bubble, this supposedly perfect unit, so there was no incentive for me to question it. But when my parents split up, it made me question everything: who I was, what I had come from, who my parents were.”
She knew she wasn’t adopted: there were photographs of her mother pregnant and stories about her birth. “There are only so many other options. I definitely started questioning my paternity,” she says. She began to feel that there was something major her parents weren’t telling her, but had no idea how to talk to them about it.

When, at 16, she started dating her high-school boyfriend Matt, who was himself mixed race. People would ask if they were brother and sister, fuelling her doubts about her parents’ story.

“Matt would sit me down with my family photo albums and be like, ‘Let’s talk about it,’” she recalls. “I told him my parents were splitting up, that I couldn’t deal with it just now. I think, deep down, I knew that there was a truth I wanted to find, but I wasn’t admitting it to myself.”

For Schwartz, the first big turning point was when she applied to Georgetown University in Washington, DC. On her application form, she left every box in the “ethnicity” section unchecked. “I’d only ever considered myself Caucasian; now, I wasn’t entirely sure any more. I didn’t know what to say, so I simply left it blank.”

However, she had submitted a photograph as part of the application, and on the basis of that, was admitted as a black student. It was an administrative “error” that Schwartz decided to run with. “The moment that Georgetown said, ‘You’re black,’ they gave me the permission to start entertaining the idea of it myself,” she says.

Source. News


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  1. Wow! What a story. She’s gorgeous regardless of ethnicity. Lovely eyes too. I think the secret was harmful to her and her family, but I highly doubt that she’d be a better person than she is today, had she known the secret earlier (from the beginning). Her perceptible personality and character traits that she could potentially possess (from a psychological, analytical perspective); are far much praise worthy than any one could hope for, for their daughter, sister or wife. I hope she doesn’t let her past define her but let it embrace who she has become. She’s beautiful with a beautiful personality and a tragic, upsetting and yet beautiful story behind her present self. It’s a story that bleeds the heart and claims an overflow of tears while causing a vacillation of emotions, confusing one between happiness and sadness but yet admiration for whom she has become.

    In single word summary? Admirable.

  2. Unbelievable. I wonder if she ever found out the real truth or confronted her mother about her paternity. Why did her father accept her colour from birth -was she as a result an only child ?Was he biologically incapable of having children ? The questions are many! But I hope she came out less scarred than other people born from maternal infidelity!

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