Not Quite White: Arabs, Slavs, and the Contours of Contested Whiteness

Directed by Jamil Khoury and Stephen Combs

A documentary film (24 min, 8 sec) that explores the complicated relationship of Arab and Slavic immigrants to American notions of whiteness.

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About Not Quite White

A film dedicated to a vision of whiteness that is anti-racist and rooted in economic justice.

Not Quite White expands the American conversation on race by zeroing in on whiteness as a constructed social and political category, a slippery slope that historically played favorites, advantaging Northern and Western European immigrants over immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe and the Middle East. Inspired by Jamil Khoury’s short play WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole, Not Quite White 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, Silk Road Rising Artistic Director Jamil Khoury 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.

“Stephen Combs and I have created a documentary film that we are extraordinarily proud of. Blending documentary with personal memoir, theatre with the academy, art with activism, Not Quite White represents, in many respects, a bridge between the former Silk Road Theatre Project and today’s Silk Road Rising,” said Khoury. “It is, God willing, the first of many such documentary projects, and is testimony to the sort of genre-crossing, multi-disciplinary storytelling that defines this new chapter in the Silk Road saga.”

“In the history of American whiteness, several groups of ostensibly ‘white’ people have, at different times and for different reasons, been assigned a conditional or partial white status,” continued Khoury. “Appalachian whites and poor whites were two such groups. Greek, Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants also endured periods of transitional whiteness, consigned to a sort of white purgatory.” 

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 observed. “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; and Dominic A. Pacyga, Professor of History, Columbia College Chicago.

TypecastNow available for purchase at ADF/Typecast Films: www.typecastfilms.com  

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Directed by
Jamil Khoury and
Stephen Combs

Executive Producer
Malik Gillani

Subject Matter Experts
Roxane Assaf
Ann Hetzel Gunkel
John Tofik Karam
Dominic A. Pacyga

Director of Photography & Editor
Stephen Combs

Peter Storms

Special Thanks
Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, Michigan)
The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple Building
Archival Images
Roxane Assaf & Family
Michael Brosilow
Stephen Combs
Johnny Knight
Library of Congress
Smithsonian Images
Wikimedia Commons

Support Provided by

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Chicago Community Trust  2

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