Thursday, March 26, 2015

She Didn't Know Who She Was!

Back in 1959 Lana Turner starred in a movie called "Imitation of Life". The movie is about a light skinned black woman who decided to "pass" for white. The story is a deep, complex journey into the life of a woman who chose to live a lie, and suffered the consequences. Choosing to live a lie is one thing. Being forced to live a lie is quite another.

Lacey Schwartz grew up as a white, Jewish girl in the predominantly white community of Woodstock, N.Y., raised by Peggy and Robert Schwartz. But what she didn’t know at the time was that her biological father was black.
The idea of “passing” for white has long been a part of African-American culture. But Schwartz’s story isn’t one about passing. She truly believed that she was white.
How she came to embrace her biracial identity and confront her parents about the family secret is the subject of her documentary, Little White Lie, which will air on PBS next week.
Judging someone’s racial identity by appearance alone can be tricky. But when Schwartz was a child, her light-brown skin and curly hair elicited comments from people outside her immediate family circle: At her bat mitzvah, a woman from the synagogue mistook Lacey for an Ethiopian Jew.
When Schwartz questioned her parents, her father showed her a portrait of her Sicilian great-grandfather, whose darker skin seemingly provided an explanation for her own. Schwartz, like everyone around her, bought this story.
“To me, one of the big themes of my story and the film is about the incredible power of denial,” said Schwartz, 38, speaking from her home in Montclair, N.J., where she lives with her husband and 18-month-old twin boys. “And one of the things I was very interested in looking at is what I consider to be the anatomy of denial.”
That denial allowed her parents to convince themselves that the great-grandfather story was true. Still, Schwartz couldn’t shake that feeling of otherness. When she began attending a more diverse high school, she would get stares from black girls and didn’t understand why. Her parent’s divorce, right before she turned 16, only led to more unanswered questions.
“When my parents split, it was very earth-shattering for me, but at the same time very eye-opening,” Schwartz said. “A few things happened that weren’t adding up anymore,” she said, noting that until then, “we could ignore them because we had this nice, happy, nuclear family. And when that broke up, it made me question a lot of things.”
It wasn’t until after she applied to Georgetown University that Schwartz began searching for answers. Although she had not checked a box next to a racial preference on the application, the university accepted her as an African American based on a photo that accompanied the application.  
At that moment, Schwartz said she felt she had been given permission to explore who she really was. She began attending meetings of the Black Student Alliance and was embraced immediately. She finally had found a place where her differences didn’t feel so out of the ordinary.
Her on-campus experiences compelled Schwartz to confront her mother, who finally admitted to having had an affair with an African-American friend named Rodney Parker. She finally found out who she is.
Years ago Eddie Murphy did a skit on Saturday Night Live in which he went out into the street disguised in "white face" as a white man. He walked into a bank and got an instant loan, and the police treated him like gold. It iwaa hilarious! But the fact is, those of us who are Black in America whether we admitt it or not, have wondered what it's like to be white. But how many of us would actually do so if we had the opportunity? If it meant no more racial profiling, and actually being judged by the content of your character as opposed to the color of your skin? If it meant increasing the opportunity for your family to thrive and survive? Who would you choose to be?
I would always choose to be who I am, BLACK!

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