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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Negotiating the Racial Boundaries of Khōjā Caste Membership in Late Nineteenth-Century Colonial Zanzibar (1878–1899)

Posted in Africa, Articles, History, Media Archive, Religion on 2014-08-22 15:18Z by Steven

Negotiating the Racial Boundaries of Khōjā Caste Membership in Late Nineteenth-Century Colonial Zanzibar (1878–1899)

Journal of Africana Religions
Volume 2, Number 3, 2014
pages 297-316
DOI: 10.1353/oar.2014.0020

Iqbal Akhtar, Professor of Religious Studies and Islamic Studies
Florida International University

This article explores late nineteenth-century identity formation and caste boundaries among the Khōjā of colonial Zanzibar. The central concern regarding children born to a non-Khōjā parent was what status, particularly regarding rights of inheritance, the multiracial children born of these relationships had within the caste structure. The case of Nasur Jesa v. Hurbayee suggests that the attitude toward these children was inconsistent; sometimes they were embraced, and at other times they were shunned by the Khōjā community. The Khōjā caste schism in the late nineteenth century and the arrival of Aga Khan III in 1899 further complicated the practice of exogamy. The Sunni and Ithnā ʿAsharī Khōjā further opened their communities through exogamy and continued the practice of plural marriage. At the same time, a command from Aga Khan III to the Āgākhānī Khōjā led to the reinstatement of traditional caste endogamy and a prohibition of interracial marriage. Therefore, both the demographic realities of Zanzibar and the politics of caste affected how the Khōjā interacted with multiracial members of their community and whether they included or excluded them within the caste structure.

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A summer camp where Jews of color go to ‘feel normal’

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-08-21 14:29Z by Steven

A summer camp where Jews of color go to ‘feel normal’

The Times of Israel
2014-08-20

Rebecca Spence

With an emphasis on diverse Diaspora Judaism, Camp Be’chol Lashon has a markedly different mandate than most Jewish camps

PETALUMA, Calif. (JTA) — On a cool Sunday evening, Jewish campers with nervous smiles took to the stage one by one to perform poems they had composed on the theme of identity.

One girl riffed on being taunted for having “fuzzy eyebrows” and “bushy hair.” Another rhymed about being told “You don’t look Jewish” too many times to count.

If this doesn’t sound like your typical summer camp fare, it’s because Camp Be’chol Lashon has a markedly different mandate than most Jewish camps.

Nestled in the misty hills of Marin County, the northern California camp is the country’s only Jewish sleepaway camp geared to Jews of color.

“Part of the goal is to make these kids feel normal in a Jewish context,” said Diane Tobin, the founder and executive director of the camp’s parent organization, the San Francisco-based nonprofit Be’chol Lashon, which promotes racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in Jewish life…

…The camp is not just for Jews of color, as evinced by one white camper’s poem about her identity as a “nerdy Jewish girl.” It’s also very much a family affair. Tobin’s son, Jonah, is a junior counselor and her daughter, Sarah Spencer, serves as the camp’s co-director.

“The kids all come with very different stories about who they are and where they’ve come to be,” said Spencer, 38, a marriage and family therapist who is also the mother of two biracial children. “Here they get to practice explaining who they are to one another and we help them to feel good about whatever that is.”

Savannah Henry, a 21-year-old counselor whose father is African-American, said that before her rabbi at Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, Calif., told her about Be’chol Lashon, she had spent a miserable summer at a more mainstream Jewish camp…

Read the entire article here.

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Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Religion, United States on 2014-08-18 02:27Z by Steven

Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood

Indiana University Press
2014-08-01
286 pages
31 b&w illus.
6 x 9
Paper ISBN: 978-0-253-01319-4

Keren R. McGinity, Author-Educator
Love & Tradition: intermarriage insights for a Jewish future

When American Jewish men intermarry, goes the common assumption, they and their families are “lost” to the Jewish religion. In this provocative book, Keren R. McGinity shows that it is not necessarily so. She looks at intermarriage and parenthood through the eyes of a post-World War II cohort of Jewish men and discovers what intermarriage has meant to them and their families. She finds that these husbands strive to bring up their children as Jewish without losing their heritage. Marrying Out argues that the “gendered ethnicity” of intermarried Jewish men, growing out of their religious and cultural background, enables them to raise Jewish children. McGinity’s book is a major breakthrough in understanding Jewish men’s experiences as husbands and fathers, how Christian women navigate their roles and identities while married to them, and what needs to change for American Jewry to flourish. Marrying Out is a must read for Jewish men and all the women who love them.

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Northern Ireland’s most (un)wanted

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, United Kingdom on 2014-08-11 21:18Z by Steven

Northern Ireland’s most (un)wanted

Media Diversified
2014-07-28

Jayne Olorunda

Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast has had many songs written about it. The lyrics of one Belfast song resonates in my ear as I think of the reputation the city now has. The lyrics of the song always stood out to me, but now they are more ironic than ever. The song goes, ‘Belfast, Belfast a wonderful town it doesn’t matter if your skin is brown’ I wonder if this was ever true? It certainly wasn’t in my time or even in my parent’s time. The outside world knows Northern Ireland as a country dominated by sectarian strife where Catholic and Protestant people have for decades been at war. This is of course true, but within Northern Ireland other hate based dynamics exist, recently they have come to the fore. Today’s Northern Ireland has a serious problem with racism and it is fast becoming a problem that can no longer be brushed aside…

…I am Northern Irish, but I am also black and this is not a comfortable position to be in, at times it has felt like a disastrous combination. My story came to public attention when I wrote ‘Legacy’ a book about my families experiences in Northern Ireland. It documents the difficulties we faced with identity and of course the sometimes impossible realities of assimilation. I was born and bred in Northern Ireland and I imagine that I am among a small handful of people of colour who can say that. It is sad that even now in my thirties black faces in Northern Ireland still stand out in the crowd. As such we have become targets to those elements in our society determined to keep their society white, those intent on living in bitterness.

Growing Up

Growing up my sisters and I have became used to being the only blacks and being identified not on our merits but as ‘the black girls’. Northern Irish racism for us began in the womb, with comments such as ‘how dare you bring another black bastard into the world’ being levelled at our mother. Our story began when my father, originally from Nigeria, was offered a job in Belfast on his graduation. Like any student fresh from university he was delighted at the opportunity in his chosen field and seized it. Whilst here he met my Mum who is from Northern Ireland. As all romances go the pair fell in love and got married, they had a family consisting of three children, I was the youngest. Not everything was perfection and it goes without saying that my parents encountered racism, they met in the 1970’s after all. Yet they were a strong couple and as long as they were together they coped…

Read the entire article here.

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“Little White Lie”: Black And Jewish Filmmaker Documents Growing Up Believing She Was White

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2014-08-10 18:45Z by Steven

“Little White Lie”: Black And Jewish Filmmaker Documents Growing Up Believing She Was White

Madame Noire
2014-08-04

Veronica Wells

Most of us know from a very early age that we’re Black. It happens so early that many of us can’t remember a specific conversation or moment where we learned this truth. But that wasn’t the case for 37-year-old Lacey Schwartz.

Schwartz, a Harvard Law School graduate turned filmmaker, didn’t learn she was black until she was 18 years old. While many of us would look at Schwartz, with her light brown skin and dark, curly hair and suspect immediately that she has at least some Black ancestry, she was told by her Jewish family that she was White and had inherited her dark skin from her Sicilian grandfather.

Her story is so fascinating, so remarkable, that she decided to make it the subject for her documentary Little White Lie which premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this past weekend. It will eventually make its way to PBS next year.

The documentary, narrated, obviously, by Schwartz herself, details her at a funeral, discussions with her girlfriends and therapy sessions where she asks over and over again how she was able to “pass for white.”

In the film, Schwartz offers a bit of an explanation: “I come from a long line of New York Jews. My family knew who they were, and they defined who I was.”

Read the entire review here.

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American Race and Charismatic License: Finding Martín de Porres in Obama

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Barack Obama, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion on 2014-08-05 14:52Z by Steven

American Race and Charismatic License: Finding Martín de Porres in Obama

Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Volume 97, Number 3, 2014
pages 376-384
DOI: 10.1353/sij.2014.0018

Chris Garces, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Problematizing the saintly reputation of seventeenth-century Dominican servant Martín de Porres, this article explores a little-known, late medieval Spanish form of agency, or licencia, with which a mulato colonial monastic could influence his Spanish Creole superiors, perform miracles, and gain a widespread reputation for superhuman piety. I ask: under what specific conditions could licencia have been wielded by nonwhite Christian subjects to manipulate the shifting moral orders of early modern Spanish Creole hegemony? I also explore how the politicization of racialized charisma continues to depend on a logic of licencia. Tracking resonances between the Spanish Creole veneration of a mulato figure in seventeenth-century Peru with the recent election of a “mixed race” president in the United States, this article reads together theology and politics to demonstrate the fraught beauty, or legal “beatification,” of racialized charisma.

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After the ‘White Lie’ Implodes, a Rich Narrative Unfurls

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States on 2014-08-02 16:59Z by Steven

After the ‘White Lie’ Implodes, a Rich Narrative Unfurls

The New York Times
2014-08-01

Felicia R. Lee

‘Little White Lie,’ Lacey Schwartz’s Film About Self-Discovery

Lacey Schwartz, a 37-year-old Harvard Law School graduate turned filmmaker, moves with ease in circles in which her identity as both black and Jewish seems unremarkable. What makes her biography striking is that Ms. Schwartz, a woman with light brown skin and a cascade of dark curls, grew up believing she was white.

How and why that happened is the subject of her film, “Little White Lie,” which has its premiere on Sunday at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, its first stop on the festival circuit before being broadcast on PBS next year. With Ms. Schwartz narrating, the camera travels to a funeral, girlfriend gab sessions and even her therapy appointments. At each stop, in raw conversations with family and friends, Ms. Schwartz asks over and over, how and why did she pass as white?

“I come from a long line of New York Jews,” she says early in the film, as photographs of her white relatives flash across the screen. “My family knew who they were, and they defined who I was.”

Ms. Schwartz was an only child who grew up in the mostly white town of Woodstock, N.Y. Her parents, Peggy and Robert Schwartz, told her that she favored her father’s swarthy Sicilian grandfather. It was not until she went off to college that she learned the truth.

Before starting college, “I was already questioning my whiteness because of what other people said and because I was aware that I looked different from my family,” she said in a recent interview. Then, based on the photograph accompanying her application, Georgetown University passed her name along to the black student association, which contacted her.

The university “gave me permission” to explore a black identity, Ms. Schwartz said…

…Bliss Broyard explored similar territory in a memoir about her father, the book critic Anatole Broyard, a black man who passed as white. She has said she was raised white but learned the truth about her father on his deathbed. But Ms. Broyard, unlike Ms. Schwartz, grew up with her biological father.

Jenifer L. Bratter, director of the Program for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Culture at Rice University, said the film’s twisting tale was part of “a larger story about race in America.”

“Biological race trumps cultural race,” she added. “Race is something we’re really invested in validating or comprehending. It’s about how we understand race as a marker of difference, something that a story about ancestry can’t resolve.”..

Read the entire review here.

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