On Monday, June 8th, we hosted our 4th Annual: What Are You?, an event initiated by our Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations (CBBG) program. From 2011 to 2014, CBBG collected oral histories of mixed-heritage Brooklynites and created public programs that provided an open space for engaging conversations on the dynamics of race, ethnicity, identity, culture, class, and sexuality.
The What Are You? public program series in particular tackles the question that so often plagues people of mixed heritage – “What are you really?” – and highlights the personal stories and voices of people of color that are oftentimes neglected under the guise of “colorblindness.” CBBG brings together mixed and culturally diverse Brooklynites in this program and encourages discussion and the sharing of personal histories.
For the 4th Annual What Are You? we invited Lacey Schwartz, director and producer of Little White Lie, an autobiographical documentary about uncovering the truth about her heritage as a biracial woman, to sit down with Lise Funderburg, author of the groundbreaking book of mixed race oral histories, Black, White, Other, to discuss questions of identity and mixed-heritage culture as biracial women in America.
The evening began with a screening of Schwartz’s provocative film, which follows her journey from being part of a typical upper class white Jewish family in Woodstock, NY to the eventual discovery that she was indeed biracial and not just taking after her darker-skinned Sicilian grandfather. Not surprisingly, Schwartz had trouble coming to terms with her newfound identity and reconciling the two worlds she inhabited, stating “I was out and about with dealing with my identity one way, and then I’d go home to my family and be a different way.”
The screening was followed by a talkback between Funderburg and Schwartz, during which both women shared their experiences of grappling with questions about having mixed heritage identities and how they managed to deal with the push and pull of two opposing identities. Both Funderburg and Schwartz characterized this clash as integral to their identities. Funderburg asked Schwartz how she identified personally, to which she answered, “I identify as being biracial, and it’s subjective, but to me that’s a category of being black.”
In choosing to embrace her identity as a black woman, Funderburg asked Lacey, “What did you have to let go of?” Lacey responded, “When you are defaulted into the black student union, even though you have black pigment in your skin, there is also a white privilege that you have to let go of. I’m aware of it and I definitely certainly embody it.”
The event concluded with an invitation to audience members to share their own stories, particularly their families’ secrets that they uncovered or have yet to share with family members. Through the film’s website, anyone can share family secrets on the “Share Your Little White Lie” page, and you can read the little white lies that other people have shared, from familial histories of mental illness to unknown adoption stories.
To learn more about Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations, visit our website and browse the collection of oral history interviews. We encourage you to attend future public programs on the questions of mixed heritage and cultural diversity.