The Illinois Institute of Art—Schaumburg Hosts Guest Author Gail Lukasik
March 20, 2018
[Gail Lukasik, visiting author, with Hanley Kanar, Faculty in General Education, pictured with her Winter Quarter English class.]
Students at The Illinois Institute of Art—Schaumburg had the opportunity to meet Gail Lukasik, writer and author of "White Like Her: My Family's Story of Race and Racial Passing." Lukasik came to campus, March 8, 2018, to lead a discussion with students who had read her nationally-acclaimed book.
The story came to light when Lukasik, a Ph.D. poet and mystery writer, decided to do a little ancestry mystery solving. Lukasik learned that, unbeknownst to her and one side of her family, her mother had been passing as white to escape the burdens of race in the deep South. This discovery changed Lukasik’s life, and her views about her identity and the malleability of race. It also answered some of her long held nagging questions about her mother, lead her to the happy reunification with one side of her family and, with the publication of the book, adds to the important discussion about race in The United States.
[Gail Lukasik leads an engaging conversation and answers student questions about her work and research]
This special event, open to all, was made even more exciting because Lukasik and her book has been getting tremendous notoriety and acclaim in the press. The Washington Postcalled it one of the seven most inspiring books of 2017, MS magazine esteemed it enough to print chapters, Salon featured both the book and Lukasik’s thoughts on the subject, and MIC asked Lukasik to write about her life experiences. Lukasik has appeared on Chicago Tonight to discuss the book, and has recently appeared nationally on the Meagyn Kelly show. Kelly was so fascinated with the story that she not only flew Lukasik in, but she also brought in some of the relatives that Lukasik was reunited with when the truth of her ancestry came out.
Students and faculty in attendance were able to engage with Lukasik about the complicated issues that her mother’s passing meant for her childhood, but also to ask questions about and discuss the broader implications Lukasik’s research shed much needed light on. As Lukasik, said, “My family’s story is the messy, secretive, and shame-filled story of race in America.”
[Students brought their personal copies of Lukasik's book to the discussion with the author.]
Lukasik shared the startling and emotion fraught scene when she first confronted her mother about the secret she had been keeping about her racial identity. “I will never forget my mother’s haunted look as she said, 'How will I hold my head up with my friends?'" Her mother’s heartbreaking shame and fear caused Lukasik to enter into a pact with her mother to continue to keep her “secret” until her mother’s passing in 2014.
[Reading several relevant passages from her book, Lukasik engaged students who had questions about researching one's own family history, and in the context of mixed race and bi-racial families.]
Lukasik’s story is nuanced and ranges from historical explication, to painful understanding about her parent’s marriage and her childhood, to unnerving discoveries of racism she has not ever thought existed in her life. After her initial befuddlement about her mother’s reasons, Lukasik came to understand the great sacrifices of family and identity her mother made to give her children the racism-wrapped gift of white privilege.
This is why, despite the pain and confusion her mother’s choices conferred on her and her family, Lukasik says she bears no resentment about her mother’s choice to hide her mixed-race heritage. She shares, “I feel only sorrow that, even after I knew, she was unable to share her feelings about who she really was and the life she had lived. I feel sad she never got to live as her authentic self.” In the end, Lukasik says she feels “proud knowing the truth of my mixed-race heritage” and sharing her story.
If you would like to learn more about Gail Lukasik, her appearances on Genecology Road Show, learn about her other books, or find out about future appearances, check out her website.
If you would care to read the articles mentioned here, check out these links.
Washington Post Article "My Mother Spent Her Life Passing As White: Discovering Her Secret Changed My View of Race and Myself"
MS Magazine "Secrets and Lies"
Salon Article "You Are the One With Slaves in Your Family"
Mic Article "My Mother Passed for White for Most of Her Life Here's What that Taught Me About Racial Identity"
If you would like to check out Lukasik’s Chicago Tonight appearance or the Meagyn Kelly show clips, here are the links:
Chicago Tonight - "White Her Memoir Details Hidden Heritage"
Today Show - "Woman Whose Mother Passed for White Introduces Her Family Members"
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