|Lacey Schwartz, dir. with mother|
By Wanda Sabir
It is one thing when there is racial ambiguity based on systemic commodification of one’s people, it’s another when the questions stem from an omission or purposeful lie, which is the case when little Lacey Schwartz was born. Lacey who is accepted into the clan notices as did others her darker skin and curly hair, yet said nothing.
Perhaps upper class Woodstock, New York, is a town without many black people, certainly the childhood photos in the her film, Little White Lie (2014) do not show any students in grammar school with Lacey who are unquestionably black, nor do we see Jews with African ancestry at her family synagogue. Hers was the tight, close-knit community which can be a blessing; in this case it was, because though different, no one seemed to stigmatize the young girl for her darker skin or complexion.
When Georgetown University accepted her application for admission, then had the audacity to call her African American when she left the race identification box unchecked (yet included the requisite photo), suddenly, someone disconnected emotionally from the sigma or shame silently attached to Lacey’s birth, named the elephant sitting in the room all her life.
The omissions –who was she . . . loomed like huge craters in her 18 year existence. She stepped gingerly on the debris covered surface; careful not to fall as she led two lives – one at school and another in Woodstock. If her parents noticed her changing, neither said anything to her about it. It was as if she had really come home once she got away. Her brown skin now had social and political context. Unable to claim all of herself for 18 years, Lacey had a lot of catching up to do then.
Lacey now occupies both sides of the room—she has had feet in both worlds about equal time, so perhaps she has finally caught up with herself, however, when asked says the process of healing and forgiveness might take a lifetime.
That typically white people do not talk about race, certainly played a role in Lacey’s acceptance in Woodstock, but at Georgetown University, then later at Harvard where the director got a law degree, Lacey’s evolving discovery of self and other aspects of her personal history and culture continued to be challenged as she embraced all of herself even if the parts sometimes were at war.
In an interview, the director says that she was able to make the journey because she had such a good therapist whom we meet vicariously (invisible) in multiple sessions where a sometimes tearful Lacey on film shares what she is feeling as her carefully constructed world comes tumbling down.
Limbo is a dangerous place to occupy.
Even though race, technically, is an artificial construct, so much of American life (including post-Apartheid South African), public policy is still based on pigment or melanin content. If Lacey had been able to pass for white, she would have never known she had another father and the “little white lie” would have remained under wraps until perhaps a stray gene like a free radical—the kind Woodstock was known for, peeked its head cross generations in recognition of the complexities of relationships –who we marry, who we love, who we decide is worthy and who we disregard or pass over and the consequences of all this a la Lacey.
I don’t know what Jews do to repent, but Lacey’s mother has a lot of repenting to do. Maybe these years of silence were the purgatory this film allows her to wash with truth?
The film has its world premiere this weekend at the Castro Theatre as a part of the SF Jewish Film Festival 2014, with screenings Sunday, August 3 (CAS. 7 p.m.), Aug. 4 (CAL 6:40 p.m.), Aug. 7 (PARK 7 p.m.), Aug. 8 (RAF 3 p.m.). Visit www.thelittlewhiteliethefilm.com sfjff.org and 415-621-0523.