racial identity

'Little White Lie' — Untangling Family Secrets, Finding New Identity

Lacey Schwartz at her Bat Mitzvah with her parents. Image courtesy Lacey Schwart

Lacey Schwartz at her Bat Mitzvah with her parents. Image courtesy Lacey Schwartz/RNS.

The Schwartzs seemed like any other Jewish family in Woodstock, N.Y. except for one thing: Mom and Dad were obviously white, and their daughter Lacey was obviously not.

That racial disconnect would be easier to fathom if Peggy and Robert Schwartz hadn't had everyone believing their dark-skinned daughter was the biological child of both parents.

It would take Little White Lie, the film an adult Lacey made about family secrets and religious identity, to unpack this mystery.

“I grew up in a world of synagogue, Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs,” Schwartz narrates over a home movie montage of Jewish holiday celebrations and her own bat mitzvah.

“So it never occurred to me that I was passing,” she continues.

“I wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t. I actually grew up believing I was white.”

Little White Lie, which has enjoyed success on the film festival circuit and will reach a larger audience when PBS’s Independent Lens airs it on March 23, revolves around a flabbergasting central question: How could this family pretend that she owed her complexion to the genes of dad’s darkest Italian ancestor?

Schwartz said she wants the film to model how people can face up to family secrets and move on with their lives. In her case, the secret was her mother’s affair with a black man.

Debating Race

Are we living in the golden age of racial debates? Every week seems to bring some new wrinkle in the national conversation about race, class, and ethnicity. And with the emergence of social media, we can now engage in these conversations with ever-greater frequency and intensity.

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