Whitewashing (censorship)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

To whitewash is a metaphor meaning cover up bad qualities in order to exonerate. It is especially used in the context of corporations, governments or other organizations.



Its first reference dates back to 1591. Whitewash is a cheap white paint or coating of chalked lime used to quickly give a uniform clean appearance to a wide variety of surfaces, for instance, the entire interior of a barn. In 1800, the word was used in a political context, when a Philadelphia Aurora editorial said that "if you do not whitewash President Adams speedily, the Democrats, like swarms of flies, will bespatter him all over, and make you both as speckled as a dirty wall, and as black as the devil."

Modern usage

Many dictatorships and authoritarian states, as well as democratic countries, have used the method of whitewash in order to glorify the results.

Later, during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring of 1968, the Press Group of Soviet Journalists released a collection of "facts, documents, press reports and eye-witness accounts," which was promptly nicknamed "The White Book" both for its white cover and its attempts to whitewash the invasion by creating the impression that the Warsaw Pact countries had the right and duty to invade.

North Korean radio broadcasts claim to have an abundance in food supplies, yet the government receives food aid from foreign states.

Japan is accused of whitewashing its history of warfare and imperialism by omitting or minimizing subjects such as the Nanking Massacre in textbooks.

In the study of reputation systems by means of algorithmic game theory, whitewashing is used to refer to an agent abandoning their tarnished identity and re-creating a new blank one, in what is more widely known in Internet slang as sockpuppeting.

In their 1989 book "After the Ball - How America will conquer its fear and hatred of Gays in the 90s" , neuropsychiatry researcher Marshall Kirk and politics doctorate Hunter Madsen established the whitewashing and brainwashing tactics the gay movement should pursue in order to achieve global acceptance, including slow desensitization of homosexuality through the media, or jamming tactics such as constantly repeating the term bigot for any person that opposes their actions, until it has the desired psychological reaction in the masses.

The text of The New Jim Crow has been identified as being whitewashed due to the bias of its conceptual framework, which omits pertinent African American people and history, as well as politically radical ideas in favor of a more conventional and mainstream perspective. Critics maintain that the text has been whitewashed for white middle-class consumption.

Fictional usage

Novels by George Orwell have dealt with the subject of whitewash as well. In Animal Farm, the pig Napoleon tries to whitewash history by deleting a few characters from the minds of the other animals. This was perceived as a direct reference to the USSR under Stalin.

Related terms

  • Greenwashing describes the practice of companies spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, or "green".
  • Bluewashing is used to describe either publicity-driven humanitarian relief efforts, or efforts to be perceived as having a small water footprint.
  • Pinkwashing has two meanings. It is used to describe the practice of companies connecting their products to breast cancer awareness and fundraising, often while ignoring the ways their products may be contributing to cancer through the materials used in production.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Whitewashing (censorship)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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