Meet the biracial woman who grew up believing she was white until uncovering her mother’s affair with the African American father she never knew she had
A woman who grew up believing that she was a white Jewish girl with two Caucasian parents has created a powerful documentary which details her discovery that her biological father is actually a black man with whom her mother had a brief affair.
Lacey Schwartz, 37, only learned the truth about her birth – and her heritage – when she was 18 years old, while she was applying to college and was identified by one of the institutions as being black.
After hearing back from the college, Ms Schwartz immediately confronted her mother and learned that she was conceived while her mom was having an affair with a black man named Rodney.
The filmmaker, who was raised in an upper-middle-class household in Woodstock, New York, decided to chronicle the discovery of her new racial identity in a documentary titled Little White Lie, which she began filming as a college student.
‘I come from a long line of New York Jews,’ Ms Schwartz explained in the film. ‘I grew up in a world of synagogue, Hebrew school and bar mitzvahs, so it never occurred to me that I was [different].’
She noted: ‘I wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t. I actually grew up believing I was white.’
Her mom never told her husband that Ms Schwartz wasn’t his biological daughter and instead credited her complexion to a dark-skinned Sicilian grandfather.
Despite questions about her skin color and dark curly hair, Ms Schwartz said she always identified as being white.
If you looked too closely at it, it didn’t make any sense, so we found ways to see what we wanted to believe,’ she said of her family’s secret.
Ms Schwartz’s childhood friend Samara noted: ‘I always looked at you like you looked black but not that you were.’
She added: ‘It really is the power of denial. How the hell did anybody not acknowledge this?’
When Ms Schwartz applied to Georgetown University as an undergraduate student she left the box regarding racial identity blank.
‘The only box I had known was white,’ she said, ‘so I just didn’t check anything and based off a photograph, I was accepted as a black student.’
Following her acceptance, she received a letter from the university’s Black Student Alliance.
Ms Schwartz was left to confront her parents, who have since divorced, about the truth regarding her race – having never thought to question them about it in the past.
‘I was afraid of not being a part of the world she had grown up in anymore,’ she said of learning the truth.
Her mother explained her infidelity and ‘white lie’ to her daughter by noting: ‘Lacey, you have to realize, before I was your mother, I was a person, and I was a girl and I was a woman.’
Ms Schwartz told Vox that she now identifies as ‘black/biracial’, although she believes that the documentary is about more than just her race.
‘I think the film’s broader lesson is about the power of telling the truth, having difficult conversations and then moving forward.’
Little White Lie was released in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington DC late last year and will air on PBS on March 23.
In addition to the film, Ms Schwartz created a website where people can anonymously share their family secrets.