Gail Lukasik is a writer and she recently appeared on Megyn Kelly Today to discuss her memoir, White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing, and to talk about her mom’s racial secret. Gail is also a mystery writer and is the author of the Leigh Girard mystery series. On her personal website, she is self-described as ‘an avid moviegoer’ and also worked as a ‘supervisor at Southwestern Bell Telephone, a freelance writer for McDonald’s Corporation, and a painting touchup artist.’
But it was in a Washington Post article where the writer talked about her childhood growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. In her letter, she wrote: ‘for two years, I’d waited for the right moment to confront my mother with the shocking discovery I made in 1995 while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records. In the records, my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, and his entire family were designated black.’ While her mother was visibly white, her father was black and the rest of his family was black as well. Gail explained: ‘my mother’s pale, olive skin and European features appeared to belie the government documents defining her as African American, allowing her to escape that public designation for most of her adult life.’
This wouldn’t have caused problems in today’s day and age where interracial couples are a regular and common sight, but back then, in the state of Louisiana, racial tensions ran high. When she brought this information to her mother her mother pleaded with her. ‘Promise me, you won’t tell anyone until after I die. How will I hold my head up with my friends?’ Gail wrote: ‘reluctantly, I agreed to keep my mother’s secret. For 17 years I told no one, except my husband, my two children and two close friends that my mother was passing as white. It was the longest and most difficult secret I’d ever held.’
Gail’s mother wanted to keep her identity hidden because the man that she got married to was a racist. ‘My father’s racism was a reflection of his upbringing in a close-knit Cleveland ethnic neighborhood. Though he never used the n-word, he was still vocal about his bigotry, referring to African-Americans using other racial slurs, deriding black people for what he perceived as their lack of ambition and their criminality. He had no idea that he was, in fact, deriding his wife, my mother.’ Though Gail’s mother never lambasted him for his racist comments, Gail was taught by her mother to love everyone despite their backgrounds, religion or skin color. She wrote: ‘In escaping the Jim Crow South, coming North and marrying my father, she must have thought gaining white privilege was worth the price of losing family ties and her authentic self.’
Gail wondered why her mother never brought the family over from New Orleans. Initially, she was told it was because New Orleans harbored too many sad memories for her but now Gail thinks ‘she was really just afraid that if we visited we’d meet family members who were not passably white. On several occasions, her mother and her sister visited us in Ohio, but they appeared white and no one hinted otherwise. But my uncle never visited — was it because he was darker than the rest? Was the reason my mother had never shown me photographs of my grandfather growing up because he was visibly black?’
In 2014, when her mother passed away, Gail was able to relieve herself of this vow that she had with her. It was on PBS’s ‘Genealogy Roadshow’ where the Frederic family was traced back to 18th century Louisiana. Gail wrote: ‘three days after my appearance on the show, my mother’s family found me. My “new” family welcomed me with generosity and love, neither judging my mother nor rejecting me. At a welcome home party in New Orleans, I met my new uncle, two aunts, and slews of cousins. We were every shade of skin from darkest ebony to whitest white and all the shades in between. Suddenly, I was part of a multiracial family.’
Gail explained that although she is truly mixed and she is part of a multiracial family, Gail still identifies as a white woman since that is who she has been her entire life. ‘At this late point, it would be disingenuous of me to claim any other identity. I’ve enjoyed white privilege my entire life. I will never forget my mother’s haunted look as she said, “How will I hold my head up with my friends?” I bear no rancor toward her for not telling me of her mixed-race heritage. I feel only sorrow that, even after I knew, she was unable to share with me her feelings about who she really was and the life she had lived. Even so, I find solace and pride in finally knowing the truth of my own heritage and the mixed-raced family I am a part of.’
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