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Lacey Schwartz came to terms with her true racial identity in ‘Little White Lie’

Justin Rocket Silverman, New York Daily News, November 30, 2014

Lacey Schwartz has a new documentary film out, "Little White Lie," about her hidden racial identity.

Lacey Schwartz didn't know she was black — until the college she applied to classified her as that.

"I come from a long line of New York Jews," the 37–year–old filmmaker says in "Little White Lie," her new documentary feature. "I wasn't pretending to be something I wasn't. I actually grew up believing I was white."

The story of how Schwartz came to understand her real identity is the subject of "Little White Lie," now playing in select theaters. The movie is more than a decade in the making, as Schwartz began filming herself in her college dorm room and in sessions with her therapist, often in tears, as she struggled to understand who, and what, she is.

That story began in 1968, the year her white Jewish parents were married. Her mom got a job that same year at a playground in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and met a black man there who would become Schwartz's biological father. But Schwartz's mom never told her husband that her child wasn't really his. Instead, the baby's dark complexion was explained as a genetic echo of an Italian grandfather.

COURTESY OF LACEY SCHWARTZ — A still photo of Lacey and her mom from the film "Little White Lie"

"People deny their own reality so they can believe what they want to believe," Schwartz, who recently moved from New York City to Montclair, N.J., tells the Daily News. "I'm fascinated with the anatomy of denial."

Starting in high school, there were hints that Schwartz was not who she thought she was. Especially when black kids at school would stare at her and demand to know what she was.

"I'm Jewish," she would tell them.

When the time came to apply to Georgetown University, Schwartz left the "race" question on her application blank, but she did send in a photograph of herself. She was admitted to the college, and got a letter from the school's Black Student Alliance saying they looked forward to welcoming her.

"For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged," Schwartz says in the film, "and somehow I just knew that black is who I was."

All that remained was confronting her mother and father, who had since divorced and never once brought up the issue of race with her.

COURTESY OF LACEY SCHWARTZ — Photo of Lacey from the film "Little White Lie"

"When Lacey decided she was going to tell this story, I was a little nervous about it," Schwartz's mother Peggy says in the film.

Together the mother and daughter went back to the Brooklyn playground where Peggy first met Schwartz's biological father. They talked openly about her infidelity. Schwartz asks her mom if she could do it all again, would she do it the same way.

Her mom replies that she would, because otherwise Schwartz never would have been born.

"People mess up," Schwartz says. "They don't understand the consequences of their actions. But I'm fundamentally empathetic."

She seems to forgive her mom, but that's not something her father is able to do. He's visibly uncomfortable as his daughter peppers him with questions on camera about how much he knew and when.

"By the time I made this film, everyone knew the truth, they just weren't talking about it," says Schwartz. "There was even a period of time when I personally knew the truth but wasn't ready to deal with it."

Schwartz hopes the film will inspire others to confront secrets and denials in their own families. She created a website at for anyone to anonymously share family secrets.

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