Have you ever been so sure of something that you believe it’s as true as the air you breathe? What is it like to find out your belief is a lie? How do you redefine yourself after being defined by someone else all your life? These are some of the questions that are answered watching “Little White Lie” a documentary by Lacey Schwartz. Family secrets, identity, and acceptance are the themes that prevail in this revealing true story of a family caught up in a web of lies.
Lacey considered herself to be a normal Jewish girl. She grew up in the upper class suburbs of Woodstock, NY. Her life could be considered routine – her parents were in a seemingly happy marriage, she had weekly trips to the synagogue and school. Looking at pictures of Lacey as a child it was fairly obvious to an outsider that she was a child with mixed descent. But for Lacey, she was white. Her parents were white. Her entire family was white – in fact the town she lived in was mostly white. Sure her skin was darker than her mom’s and dad’s and her hair was curly, but she had a Sicilian great grandfather whose skin was darker and her mom had curly hair. She had a strong sense of who she was from her parents. Being white was everything she knew.
It wasn’t until a boy in school asked to see the color of her gums that she started to question why she was different. She felt ugly. She began to wish for lighter skin. She was even mistaken for an Ethopian Jew.
By the time Lacey applied to college she is so unsure of who she was that when Georgetown University asked her to state her ethnicity she purposely didn’t check any box. Georgetown made the decision and admitted her as a black student based on the picture she sent. She joined a black club on campus and felt welcomed into the black community, which gave her permission to accept who she was. She viewed her college experience as her Race 101 course and learned what it truly was to be black.
College gave Lacey the courage to confront her mother, who admitted that the man she had known all her life to be her father was not her dad, but rather it was a man named Rodney with whom her mother had a long-term affair. While Lacey did try to create a relationship with Rodney and his family members – her main concern was trying to connect with the father she grew up with.
At the time when she is college and discovering her true self – life at home was difficult. Her parents have split and tensions are high in the household. Revealing the family secret brought Lacey relief but it also terrified her. How was she to discuss this with her dad? She knew that embracing her blackness was also connected to breaking her dad’s heart. Watching her father come to terms with the idea that his baby girl was never his baby girl was heartbreaking.
I really enjoyed this documentary and in many ways can relate to the experiences Lacey had. I remember the first time I realized I was black. We had just moved to a rural part of Alaska and my 6’3″ daddy, who had the best shaped afro since Jim Brown, was shielding my brother and I from the rocks being thrown at our house. The Eskimos we moved next to had never seen anyone that looked like us and could only reference movies like ‘Shaft’ and ‘Black Belt Jones’ as to who they thought we were. I didn’t even understand the word ‘nigger’ that was being shouted at us, but I understood that they hated our family because we were different. I had no idea that I was black. From that moment on I noticed how tight my curls were or how dark I got in the sun. It took years for me to get comfortable with that.
In the end, this was a story about a family so caught up in denial that they almost convinced themselves to completely ignore the truth. It is also a story about forgiveness. The commentary on race is what I found most interesting. There is a fundamental difference between blacks and whites and I think that is partly because of the way that our country deals with the taboo subject of race. White people don’t think about race. They don’t have to. That’s how Lacey’s father was able to ignore what was blatantly obvious for years. Black people can’t stop thinking of race. It is what often defines us.
Little White Lie is available for streaming on Netflix.