‘My iden­tity is di­vided’

Lacey Schwartz is deal­ing with her dual eth­nic­ity by mak­ing a film about black Jews

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES -

WH E N L A C E Y Schwartz was 18 years old, she dis­cov­ered why she was black when her par­ents were both white and Jewish, Alex Kas­riel writes. It emerged that her birth was the re­sult of an af­fair her mother had had with a black man. Now she is mak­ing a film called Out­side The Box about her ex­pe­ri­ence of look­ing black but be­ing Jewish.

Schwartz, 31, a Har­vard-ed­u­cated lawyer liv­ing in New York, says: “The film is about my ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up in a white, Jewish fam­ily and find­ing out at the age of 18 that my bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther was black due to an af­fair my mother had and no­body talked about. Un­til now, my iden­tity has been di­vided. As part of the process, I’m look­ing not only at my fam­ily, but also at oth­ers who may have had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence and who share th­ese two iden­ti­ties.”

It was when Schwartz left home that is­sues in­volv­ing her iden­tity be­came more con­fus­ing. She says she felt out of place at syn­a­gogue, al­though she ad­mits this feel­ing may have stemmed from her own para­noia. “Ju­daism is part of the cul­ture of my fam­ily and where I came from,” she says. “When I was younger it was just about how other peo­ple thought about me and the ques­tions they had about why I looked the way I did. Once I went away to col­lege, I started to ques­tion my iden­tity. I wasn’t com­fort­able tick­ing boxes ask­ing which eth­nic­ity I was. So I didn’t check any box. But I was re­ally wel­comed in the black com­mu­nity be­cause of the way I looked.”

Schwartz in­sists there is a ca­ma­raderie among peo­ple who are black and Jewish in Amer­ica, even if they do not all share the same re­li­gious be­liefs. “I have con­nected to them,” she says. “We have a lot of dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences.”

But she does think that be­ing black is much more com­mon among Jews than one might think — even if the cir­cum­stances are not as ex­treme as hers. She iden­ti­fies three types — those who con­vert to Ju­daism af­ter be­ing born to black par­ents, those who have one black and one Jewish par­ent, and those who are part of an al­ready ex­ist­ing black-Jewish fam­ily. “I think there is a move­ment of peo­ple who are into be­ing mixed race,” she re­flects.

Schwartz chooses to im­merse her­self in black cul­ture, but says the process of mak­ing her film about dual iden­tity may lead her to dis­cover more about her Jewish roots. “I don’t ex­pect to be­come deeply re­li­gious,” she says, “but this process could cer­tainly re­de­fine what be­ing Jewish means to me.” Out­side The Box is out next sum­mer. See www.gold­glasspro­duc­tions.com

Lacey Schwartz: “There’s a move­ment of peo­ple into be­ing mixed race”

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