Whitewashing (censorship)

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To whitewash is a metaphor meaning "to gloss over or cover up vices, crimes or scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data".[1] It is especially used in the context of corporations, governments or other organizations.


The first known modern use of the term is from 1591.[1][2] 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."[3]

The use of the metaphor "whitewashing" may date back at least as far as the 1st century CE, with Matthew 23:27-28 reading: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."[4] The Greek word κεκονιαμένοις, meaning "having been whitewashed",[5] refers to the ancient practice of whitening tombs with lime. This is reflected in the King James translation which reads "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."[6] The practice of making a grave appear clean by whitening the outside formed the basis for the metaphor used in the passage.

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.[citation needed]

North Korean radio broadcasts claim to have an abundance in food supplies, yet the government receives food aid from foreign states.[7]

Member of the right-wing revisionist group "Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform" putting up a banner reading "(Teach) the kids the correct history" in front of the Yasukuni Jinja

Japan is accused of whitewashing its history of warfare and imperialism by omitting or minimizing subjects such as the Nanking Massacre in textbooks.[8]

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,[9]:682 in what is more widely known in Internet slang as sockpuppeting.

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.[10][11]

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. The protagonist of his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, set in a totalitarian dictatorship, is employed as a routine falsifier of the historical record to ensure that it is always in keeping with the party line.

Related terms

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Whitewash", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2003 DVD Ultimate reference suite.
  2. "whitewash". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved December 6, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Philadelphia Aurora (July 21, 1800), cited in the New World Encyclopedia
  4. Nelson, Thomas. "Matthew 23:27-28, New King James Version Bible". Bible Gateway. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Retrieved 10 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Matthew 23, Greek with English Translation". Bible Hub. Berean Interlinear Bible. Retrieved 10 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Matthew 23: King James version (1611)". WikiSource. King James. Retrieved 10 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Dafna Linzer (2005-06-23). "U.S. Offers Food Aid to N. Korea". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2006-10-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "China Raps Japanese Politician for Whitewashing History". Retrieved 2006-10-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Vazirani, Vijay V.; Nisan, Noam; Roughgarden, Tim; Tardos, Éva (2007). Algorithmic Game Theory (PDF). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-87282-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Joseph D. Osel (2012-04-07). "Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash" (PDF). International Journal of Radical Critique. Retrieved 2012-05-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Thomas, G. "Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much" Vox Union, 2012: http://www.voxunion.com/why-some-like-the-new-jim-crow-so-much/?pagewanted=all
  12. "Terrachoice.com - Definition of Greenwashing". terrachoice.com. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "LP: 'The biggest environmental crime in history'". Libertypost.org. 10 December 2007. Retrieved 2013-11-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "'Think Before You Pink'". Thinkbeforeyoupink.org. 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2013-11-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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