Filmmaker in Focus: Lacey Schwartz

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Religion, United States on 2014-09-18 00:11Z by Steven

Filmmaker in Focus: Lacey Schwartz

Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival 2014
2014-09-11

Aurora Herrera

Throughout history and for various reasons, many people who are not white have passed for white. But how many people have passed without knowing they were doing so?

That is precisely what the documentary Little White Lie, a deeply personal film by Lacey Schwartz, is about. It is also a film about family secrets, deception, denial and a courageous search for identity.

Lacey Schwartz grew up in a Jewish family in upstate New York, and always believed that she was white. She was told that her relatively dark skin and curly hair were the result of a certain Sicilian ancestor. As a young woman, however, she began ask deeper questions about her identity and talk about matters of race and identity.

The CEO of the production company Truth Aid, Lacey is a director/producer who has worked with a variety of production companies and networks, including MTV and BET. Little White Lie (2014) is the first film that Lacey has directed. She also executive produced the narrative film Difret (2014, and also a selection of ttff/14), which won audience awards at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. Lacey has a BA from Georgetown University and a JD from Harvard Law School.

Lacey will bet at the ttff/14 for the screenings of her film on 17 and 19 September. Ahead of the screenings, Festival blogger Aurora Herrera discussed the film with her and heard first-hand about her journey to finding out who she is, and about her need to redefine her identity.

Aurora Herrera: Tell me about the title of the film. Usually a little white lie is something that doesn’t hurt anybody. However, this lie hurt many people.

Lacey Schwartz: The title is meant to be ironic in the sense that people can use the term little white lie to describe things that are harmless and to spare everybody pain, but in fact part of the point is that these little white lies can actually build up and affect people a lot. The lies can pile upon each other. Also, there is kind of a double entendre in the sense that it implies that I am the little white lie so there is also a racial connotation to it, like when something is white it’s considered good and when something is black it’s considered bad…

Read the entire interview here.

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Challenger Upends Brazilian Race for Presidency

Posted in Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Women on 2014-09-17 17:52Z by Steven

Challenger Upends Brazilian Race for Presidency

The New York Times
2014-09-15

Simon Romero, Brazil Bureau Chief

RIO DE JANEIRO — When Dilma Rousseff and Marina Silva were both cabinet ministers, they clashed on everything from building nuclear power plants to licensing huge dams in the Amazon.

Ms. Rousseff came out on top, emerging as the political heir to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and ultimately succeeding him as president. But she now finds herself locked in a heated race with Ms. Silva, an environmental icon who is jockeying for the lead in polling ahead of the Oct. 5 election as an insurgent candidate repudiating the power structure she helped assemble.

Ms. Silva’s upending of the presidential race is a symbol of the antiestablishment sentiment that has roiled Brazil, including anxiety over a sluggish economy and fatigue with political corruption. Her rising popularity also taps into shifts in society like the rising clout of evangelical Christian voters and a growing disquiet with policies that have raised incomes while doing little to improve the quality of life in Brazilian cities.

“Marina differs from other politicians” in this election “in that she came almost from nothing,” said Sonia Regina Gonçalo, 34, a janitor, referring to Ms. Silva, who was born into extreme poverty in the far reaches of the Amazon. “She’s the ideal candidate for this time in Brazil.”

Thrust to the fore after her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash in August, Ms. Silva, 56, has a background with few parallels at the highest levels of Brazilian politics, allowing her to resonate with voters across the country.

If elected, she would be Brazil’s first black president, a milestone in a country where most people now identify themselves as black or mixed race, but where political power is still concentrated in the hands of whites…

Read the entire article here.

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Argentina Rediscovers Its African Roots

Posted in Anthropology, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery on 2014-09-15 01:47Z by Steven

Argentina Rediscovers Its African Roots

The New York Times
2014-09-12

Michael T. Luongo

The chapel in the small lakeside resort community of Chascomús is at best underwhelming. Its whitewashed brick exterior is partly obstructed by a tangle of vines and bushes, and its dim, one-room interior is no more majestic than its facade. Wooden pews and an uneven dirt floor are scarcely illuminated by sunlight from a single window. The gray, cracked, dusty walls are adorned with crosses, photos, icons — things people leave to mark their pilgrimage. A low front altar is layered with thick candle wax, flowers and a pantheon of black saints, Madonnas and African deities like the sea goddess Yemanja of the Yoruba religion.

Despite its unkempt state, this chapel, the Capilla de los Negros, attracts a little over 11,000 tourists each year who come to see a church named for the freed slaves who built it in 1861.

The chapel is “where we can locate ourselves and point out the truth that we are here,” said Soledad Luis, an Afro-Argentine from the tourism office who led me through the space. She knows it well. It sits on a plot her great-grandfather helped secure, and her family still gathers there weekly for a meal.

Capilla de los Negros feels off the beaten path, but it is part of a list of slave sites in Argentina created in 2009 by Unesco. Its inclusion signals the growing consciousness of African heritage in Argentina, seemingly the most Europeanized country in South America.

Argentina at one time had a robust African presence because of the slaves who were brought there, but its black population was decimated by myriad factors including heavy casualties on the front lines in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay in the 1860s; a yellow fever epidemic that rich, white Argentines largely escaped; and interracial offspring who, after successive generations, shed their African culture along with their features. And European immigration swelled the white population — 2.27 million Italians came between 1861 and 1914.

The demographic shift has been sharp. In 1800, on the eve of revolution with Spain, blacks made up more than a third of the country, 69,000 of a total population of 187,000, according to George Reid Andrews’s 2004 book “Afro-Latin America.” In 2010, 150,000 identified themselves as Afro-Argentine, or a mere 0.365 percent of a population of 41 million people, according to the census, the first in the country’s history that counted race.

But the culture the slaves brought with them remained. And in recent years, Argentina has gone from underselling its African roots to rediscovering them, as academics, archaeologists, immigrants and a nascent civil rights movement have challenged the idea that African and Argentine are mutually exclusive terms…

Read the entire article here.

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How the slave trade shaped the Baroque

Posted in Articles, Arts, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery on 2014-09-03 18:35Z by Steven

How the slave trade shaped the Baroque

The Art Newspaper
Focus, Issue 260, September 2014

Emanoel Araujo, Founder, Head Curator and Director
Museu AfroBrasil, São Paulo, Brazil

As Catholicism spread across the colonies, slaves and freedmen created a uniquely Brazilian style

The Baroque movement that spread across the Portuguese and Spanish colonies has been important to the Catholic hegemony of the New World since 1500. The image of the cross was used as a powerful symbol of evangelisation so that the work of the Jesuits, Benedictines, Franciscans and other religious brotherhoods and third orders could add European men and women, Indians and Africans to the Christian faith that developed as the glue binding a new era during the 17th and 18th centuries in Brazil.

Wild and tropical Brazil was the ideal environment for a new aesthetic, which was made a reality through the force of the colonisers and through slaves from West and Central Africa, who overflowed from the country’s sugar mills to the gold and diamond mines of Minas Gerais state.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh

Black and mixed-race slaves and freedmen were fundamental in the building of one of the richest periods in Brazilian art. In the midst of many disgraces, their vision shows the impact of miscegenation in the culture of the national Baroque.

The Baroque ideal meant the transformation in curves of the tenets of Classical art. It was the great spectacle of the forms of nature mixed with a strongly angled geometry in gold and white marble. Dark wood was put together with large panels of Portuguese blue tiles; ceilings were painted with illusionist paintings against a sensory backdrop of frankincense, myrrh and organ music.

Brazilian gold reached Portugal in tonnes, while the few bars remaining adorned the carvings of the altars of hundreds of churches, cathedrals and monasteries across the country. Artists, gilders, sculptors, woodcarvers, goldsmiths and silversmiths, cabinetmakers, carpenters and masons transformed humble chapels of rammed earth (taipa), made of wattle and daub (pau-a-pique), into monumental churches, convents and cathedrals with interiors covered in pure gold and sterling-silver devotions.

Much of this work was done by black and mixed-race slaves and freedmen, despite restrictions such as a decree banning African and African-Brazilian goldsmiths in 1621. This culminated in goldsmiths’ stalls being smashed in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia in 1766, although there are some examples of these decrees being dismissed…

Read the entire article here.

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The Michael Brown Tragedy: A Christian of Color Perspective

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, United States on 2014-09-01 00:49Z by Steven

The Michael Brown Tragedy: A Christian of Color Perspective

Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity
2014-08-25

Robert Chao Romero, Associate Professor of Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

Today is the funeral of Michael Brown. Please join me in praying for comfort for his family.

As for many, the tragedy of Michael Brown’s death has stirred in me much reflection about the deep racial divide in the U.S. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that racial profiling by police, and racial profiling in general, is wrong, especially when it leads to horrific violence. The racial divide seems to surface, however, when we discuss the prevalence of racial profiling in America today.

If someone grew up with fair skin and light hair in a middle class suburban neighborhood, then, in my experience, the tendency is to believe that racial profiling among police, and in other social settings, is not a pervasive problem.

If someone grew up African American or Latina/o in a racially marginalized urban area, then the almost universal agreement is that ethnic profiling is alive and well. It’s also important to note that many African Americans and Latinas/os in middle class suburban communities experience racial profiling (for example see this excellent article by a Black law professor from the Washington University School of Law in Missouri: http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/25/opinion/norwood-ferguson-sons-brown-police/index.html).

When asserting our perspectives on the topic of racial profiling, we all speak from our personal experience. Many whites from suburban environments speak from their experience–where they have not been racially profiled and where law enforcement is viewed as an ally. For those of us who are People of Color, our experience is often quite different—we experience racial profiling by the police, at our work places, and when we go to our local strip malls to shop.

For example, here’s a few of my racial profiling experiences. Those of you who have tracked with Jesus for Revolutionaries for a while will know that I am a 6 foot 1, 220 pound, dark-skinned, bearded, “Chinese-Mexican,” who usually passes as Latino…

Read the entire article here.

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Chronicling Mississippi’s ‘Church Mothers,’ and Getting to Know a Grandmother

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Mississippi, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-08-31 18:18Z by Steven

Chronicling Mississippi’s ‘Church Mothers,’ and Getting to Know a Grandmother

The New York Times
2014-08-29

Samuel G. Freedman, Professor of Journalism
Columbia University, New York

SUMNER, Miss. — Toward noon on a torrid Monday in the Mississippi Delta, Alysia Burton Steele drove down Highway 49, looking for the crossroads near the Old Antioch Baptist Church. There, at the corner of a road called Friendship, she turned into the African-American section of Sumner, a dwindling hamlet of about 300 that suffices as a county seat.

A photographer by training and a professor by title, Ms. Steele was headed for the homes of two older neighbors, Lela Bearden, 88, and Herma Mims Floyd. She was bringing the women legacies to inspect, legacies in the form of portraits and testimonies she had taken of them over the last few years.

Ms. Bearden and Ms. Floyd were part of a larger assemblage of 50 African-American women whom Ms. Steele had chosen to chronicle in text and image for a book-in-progress she has titled “Jewels in the Delta.”

Whether by formal investiture or informal acclamation, nearly all the women in the book held the title of “church mother,” a term of respect and homage in black Christianity. As lifelong residents of the Delta — the landscape of the blues bards Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson and the terrain of the civil rights crusaders Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer — the women had lived through segregation and struggle and liberation.

“I knew there were hard times,” said Ms. Steele, 44. “But I did not understand it. Just to hear the things they went through. That blacks couldn’t try on shoes in stores. That you couldn’t go to school if there was cotton to pick. The stories made me cry. They put a face on history for me. I felt like I got my private history lesson.”

In her work, Ms. Steele has attested to the worth of lives that Jim Crow meant to render worthless. At times, she has had to convince the church mothers themselves that their stories were significant enough to be part of a book…

…For Ms. Steele, such biography served a covertly personal purpose. The past for which she was searching in the Delta was that of her own grandmother, Althenia Burton.

As the daughter of a black father and white mother, who divorced when she was 3, Ms. Steele was raised by her paternal grandparents. While young Alysia cherished her grandmother, her Gram, she also bitterly resisted her. When her grandmother insisted on bringing Alysia to church, the girl poked holes in her tights in the futile attempt at an excuse to miss it. Even as Ms. Burton cultivated her granddaughter’s ambition for college, she dismissed her passion for photography with the pronouncement “Pick a real major.”…

Read the entire article here.

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A Mother’s Love: Stories of Struggle, Sacrifice, Love and Wisdom

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-08-31 17:55Z by Steven

A Mother’s Love: Stories of Struggle, Sacrifice, Love and Wisdom

The Root
2014-05-11

Breanna Edwards

Journalist Alysia Steele’s explores the “jewels in the Mississippi Delta” who held it down for their families through decades of strife and racial struggle.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and many of us may feel the keen absence of the women who meant the most to us.

How many times have you wished you could turn back the hands of time and have one more conversation with one of the most influential women of your life? Maybe have notes of memorable anecdotes they shared?

This was one of Alysia Steele’s biggest regrets concerning her paternal grandmother, Althenia A. Burton, who died 20 years ago. Since then, the memory of her grandmother has stayed with Steele, never fading, and ultimately culminating in the conception of her current project, a book proposal, “Jewels in the Delta,” that has gained interest from publishers.

“I have a huge sense of regret that as a trained journalist I never had the foresight to get her story and I’ll never hear her voice again, and I can’t even tell you how much that hurts me,” Steele tells The Root.

Steele has interviewed about 47 women and is conducting the last of what will be a total of 50 interviews in the coming days. The project has taken her approximately 11 months to complete and countless hours of recording, transcribing, coaxing and traveling. It’s been hard work, to be sure, but to Steele the end goal has been more than worth it.

“How many of us stop and talk to our grandparents to get to their stories? To really ask them the questions that are hard?” she adds…

…In an excerpt from Steele’s book proposal, Virginia Hower, 93, shared how she “felt dirty” because of her ability to pass for white in a segregated society.

It was horror. You felt bad because you couldn’t be with your grandmother or your grandfather. You just accepted it. I couldn’t be with them because they were darker. Sometimes you felt bad because you could ride in a clean coach and just to think that your grandmother couldn’t kiss you as you stepped off the train. But they accepted it, so why not enjoy the clean train? And then when I got down on the streets, we all kiss and carry on. Those was happy moments. And then you got to thinkin’ how foolish this life is, how foolish. Then you got to thinkin’ about it and say take advantage of it and a lot of people down here in Clarksdale, they went to Chicago in ’41 and never revealed they were colored.

So many fascinating stories from unassuming women who had nothing but love for their respective husbands and children and who never really spoke about the troubles and trials they had endured…

Read the entire article here.

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Documentary reveals Jewish mother’s ‘Little White Lie’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-08-26 01:58Z by Steven

Documentary reveals Jewish mother’s ‘Little White Lie’

The Times of Israel
2014-08-17

Rebecca Spence

Lacey Schwartz’s film about reconciling her hidden black paternity to the Ashkenazi Jewish home she was raised in strikes universal themes

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — When Lacey Schwartz celebrated her bat mitzvah more than two decades ago in her hometown of Woodstock, New York, a synagogue-goer turned to her and said, “It’s so nice to have an Ethiopian Jew in our midst.”

Never mind that Schwartz, a striking 37-year-old with long black curls and a megawatt smile, is about as American as they come. Raised by two Ashkenazi Jewish parents in a largely white, upstate New York town, Schwartz’s complexion — darker than that of her relatives — had long been attributed to a Sicilian grandfather.

Despite lingering questions, she believed the story. But when Schwartz enrolled at Georgetown University and the Black Student Alliance sent her a welcome letter based on a picture she submitted, Schwartz could no longer deny something was amiss.

She confronted her mother, Peggy Schwartz, only to discover that her biological father was a black man named Rodney with whom she had had an affair.

The discovery of her family secret and Schwartz’s coming to terms with her newly complex racial identity serves as the basis for “Little White Lie,” a moving documentary that had its official world premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last Sunday following screenings in Cape Cod, Mass., and Philadelphia

…While Schwartz the filmmaker has embraced her black identity, it has not been at the expense of the strong Jewish cultural identity she developed during her formative years. Some of the earliest stirrings of the film came through her work with Reboot, a hand-picked collective of Jewish creative professionals who come together to explore meaning, community and identity…

Read the entire article here.

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On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 20:05Z by Steven

On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

The New York Times
2007-10-12

John Strausbaugh

LAST month the City of New York gave Duffield Street in downtown Brooklyn an alternate name: Abolitionist Place. It’s an acknowledgment that long before Brooklyn was veined with subway lines, it was a hub of the Underground Railroad: the network of sympathizers and safe houses throughout the North that helped as many as 100,000 slaves flee the South before the Civil War.

With its extensive waterfront, its relatively large population of African-American freemen — slavery ended in New York in 1827 — and its many antislavery churches and activists, Brooklyn was an important nexus on the “freedom trail.” Some runaways stayed and risked being captured and returned to their owners, but most traveled on to the greater safety of Canada.

Because aiding fugitives from the South remained illegal even after New York abolished slavery — and because there was plenty of pro-slavery sentiment among Brooklyn merchants who did business with the South — Underground Railroad activities were clandestine and frequently recorded only in stories passed down within families. Corroborating documentation is scarce.

Still, it’s possible to follow some likely freedom routes through Brooklyn. You begin in Brooklyn Heights, where the Promenade offers sweeping views of the East River waterfront. In the decades before the Civil War, this waterfront bristled with the masts of sailing ships. Many were cargo vessels bringing cotton and other goods from the South. Sometimes they brought secret passengers: slaves fleeing to freedom. The fugitives slipped ashore and filtered into Brooklyn, where they were hidden and helped along on their journeys. Acquiring its railroad imagery by the 1830s, this antislavery network had its own “stationmasters” and “conductors,” who helped organize runaways’ passages north, and its own “stations” and “depots,” where they hid. Several Brooklyn churches participated. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, a few blocks from the Promenade on Orange Street, between Hicks and Henry Streets, was called its “Grand Central Depot.”…

[Henry Ward] Beecher’s most successful tactic for arousing what he called “a panic of sympathy” for slaves was to stage mock slave auctions in the church, with the congregation bidding furiously to buy the captives’ freedom. The 1914 bronze statues of Beecher and two girls in the church’s courtyard by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculptured Mount Rushmore, depicts the first such auction, in 1848.

The most famous auction occurred in 1860, when Beecher urged his congregation to buy the freedom of a pretty 9-year-old from Washington, Sally Maria Diggs, called Pinky for her light complexion.

“After the service he called her to the platform and told the congregation her story,” Ms. Rosebrooks said. “He said, ‘No child should be in slavery, let alone a child like this.’ I’m sure he played on this. She could be your niece. She could be your sister. Your next door neighbor. So they passed the collection plate and raised $900, which is about $10,000 in today’s dollars.”

Congregants gave jewelry as well as cash. In a theatrical flourish Beecher fetched a ring from the collection plate, slipped it onto Pinky’s finger and declared, “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom.”

In 1927 when Plymouth Church celebrated the 80th anniversary of Beecher’s first sermon there, one who attended was Mrs. James Hunt, a stately woman of 76. She was Pinky and had grown up to marry a lawyer in Washington. According to Plymouth Church lore, she brought the ring with her; Ms. Rosebrooks showed me a simple gold band set with a small amethyst. (A Brooklyn Eagle article from 1927, however, quotes Mrs. Hunt as saying the ring had been lost.)…

Read the entire article here.

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BROOKLYN INTELLIGENCE.; The Sanford-street Catastrophe. CONDITION OF THE WOUNDED-BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 17:26Z by Steven

BROOKLYN INTELLIGENCE.; The Sanford-street Catastrophe. CONDITION OF THE WOUNDED-BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

The New York Times
1860-02-06

…AN INTERESTING SCENE IN PLYMOUTH CHURCH — PURCHASE OF A SLAVE BY THE CONGREGATION. — Another case of the ransom of a slave occurred yesterday in Plymouth Church. The circumstances were of touching interest. A good-looking and intelligent little girl named PINK, about nine years of age, having in her veins only one-sixteenth part African blood, (although that was more than enough to make her a slave,) was brought from Washington City to Brooklyn on Saturday last, with a view to the purchase of her freedom. Her father is at present one of the leading physicians in Washington. The mother was sold a few years ago to a Southern trader. At different times, five of her six children were sold to various parts of the South, until only little PINK remained. The child was taken care of by her grandmother, who had received oft-repeated assurances from the owner that PINK, should never be parted from her. But during the last holidays, arrangements were made to sell the child for $800. It was thought that when she grew up to womanhood she would be worth $3,000. Mr. BLAKE, a young clergyman recently from Alexandria Episcopal Seminary, hearing of the circumstances, interested himself to save the child. For this purpose, he procured permission to bring her to the North, leaving behind him satisfactory security for the return, either of the child or of the price of her ransom. The girl was, yesterday morning, introduced to the Sunday School by the Superintendent, Mr. THEODORE TILTON. Some interesting incidents of the child’s history were related by Mr. BLAKE, and the children determined to undertake, with the assistance of the Church, the purchase of the child — the classes contributing $5 each. At the close of the morning sermon, the pastor, Rev. HENRY WARD BEECHER, took the child into the pulpit, stated the case to the congregation, and made an eloquent plea for her liberty, which drew tears from many eyes. The collection plates were then passed, and returned well laden with bank notes. The money was not counted before the close of the service, but a lady in the audience sent word to the pastor that she would make up the deficiency, if any should be found. This announcement was received with an irrepressible demonstration of applause. Many persons crowded around the platform to congratulate the little girl on her new-found freedom, which she is now too young fully to appreciate…

Read the entire article here.

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