'My identity is divided'

By Alex Kasriel, May 8, 2008

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

When Lacey Schwartz was 18 years old, she discovered why she was black when her parents were both white and Jewish. 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 Lacey Schwartz: “There’s a movement of people into being mixed race” 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

Last updated: 1:22pm, May 13 2008