She found out her mother had been hiding her mixed-race identity

Posted by Liam, 25 Feb

"The Secret Album" is a film that highlights Gail Lukasik's story, who, after more than half of her life, discovered that her mother had been keeping her racial identity secret from her husband and kids.

Gail was raised in an all-white suburb of Cleveland. Growing up, she had no reason to doubt her parents' race. On the contrary, she knew beyond doubt that they were White until the time her mother was about to pass on.

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Before she died, her mother gave her a family photo album, which disrupted her primary sense of identity and her relationship with her mother.

When Gail did genealogy research, she discovered that her mother started "passing" as Caucasian in Ohio in her twenties. Before then, she was raised as Black in New Orleans.

In an interview with filmmaker Sarah Klein, Gail talks about what it means for her after uncovering her new racial identity and her family's complex past.

One of the things she reveals is that when she watched the short film she made, she cried because it reinforced that she never truly knew her mother when she was alive. Even after telling her mother that she would keep her story secret, she still held back, unwilling to talk about her past life and what she went through.

To think that her mother hid her racial identity from her children and, most of all, her own husband (who was casually racist) begins to show how insidious racism is. Born in 1921, her mother was clearly brought up in an era of brutal oppression of systemic racism. So if she decided to identify as 'White' in her twenties, it was probably because her opportunities were limited. She knew how dangers of passing for White. This is why she moved from New Orleans to Ohio to survive and hide her true identity. And she managed to pass as white for all those years until she died in 2014!

After uncovering her mother's history, Gail's sense of racial identity has evolved. Initially, after her book, White Like Her came out, she would say she is a "White woman with Black ancestry" when asked how she identifies. After appearing on The Today Show, where she gave the same response, she got an angry posting from this woman who basically told Blacks not to read her book because Gail was not honoring her Black heritage. This woman felt she had turned her back on her black heritage. That shook her up and made her start rethinking her racial identity.

Gail was not claiming her Black identity because she thought she was being respectful to Black people by doing so. She was not claiming her black identity because she has never suffered racism because of her white skin color. So why claim her Black identity when she has enjoyed White privilege all her life? Gail kept identifying as a White woman to honor her mother. But was she honoring her Black ancestors who suffered under slavery?

After doing some deep soul searching, she finally decided to accept who she is, and now she identifies as mixed-race.

Can you imagine the number of people who are passing as White today? Just a thought…

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