Inspired by Jamil Khoury’s short play WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole, Not Quite White: Arabs, Slavs, and the Contours of Contested Whiteness is a thought-provoking documentary that explores the complicated relationship of Arab and Slavic immigrants to American notions of whiteness.
The film integrates scenes from WASP alongside interviews with Arab American and Polish American academics who reflect upon contested and probationary categories of whiteness and the use of anti-Black racism as a “whitening” dye.
In Not Quite White, Jamil Khoury (Artistic Director of Chicago’s Silk Road Rising) draws upon his own Arab (Syrian) and Slavic (Polish and Slovak) heritage as the lens through which to investigate the broader issue of immigrants achieving whiteness and hence qualifying as “fully American.” The film advances society’s on-going conversations about the meaning of whiteness and efforts at redefining whiteness.
Not just for white people, and not just for Arabs and Slavs, Not Quite White proceeds from the assumption that whiteness affects all our lives and that we all need to critically engage whiteness. “Whiteness has everything to do with melanin and pigmentation and it has nothing to do with melanin and pigmentation,” Khoury observes. “Whiteness is about power and borders and authorship. And whiteness can, and does, change.”
The academics featured in Not Quite White include: Roxane Assaf, Adjunct Faculty, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Ann Hetzel Gunkel, Director of Cultural Studies, Columbia College Chicago; John Tofik Karam, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, De Paul University; Dominic A. Pacyga, Professor of History, Columbia College Chicago.
DVD copies also include On Whiteness, a 16-minute video essay in which writer and co-director Jamil Khoury discusses the themes and ideas presented in his film. Khoury’s short film both/and is also available from Typecast here.
“Not Quite White is a bold and dynamic examination of the social construction of race and ethnicity in the United States. Switching between the theatrical performance of an Arab American who ‘looks’ white and interviews with scholars from the Arab American and Polish American communities, the film is able to offer a multi-dimensional understanding of whiteness as a contested racial category. As a Lecturer in Cultural Studies, I find the film useful as a tool for teaching students that race is more complex than what meets the eye.”
– Michelle Yates, Ph.D., Dept. of Humanities, History, & Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago
“Zeroes in on whiteness as a constructed social and political category…that historically ‘played favorites,’ advantaging Northern and Western European immigrants over immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe and the Middle East.”
“Not Quite White presents the often sensitive topics of race and identity in an entertaining, thoughtful, and enlightening way. The film is very well done and also a great reminder that appearances cannot always provide the full story of politics, race, and class that come into play in American society. Jamil Khoury has turned his vision and personal experiences of race and identity into a powerful artistic piece.”
– Christie J. Dal Corobbo, Cultural Studies and Minors Programs at Columbia College Chicago