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]


The first known 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]

Modern usage[edit]

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.[4]

File:Revisionists Yasukuni 1.jpg
Member of the right-wing revisionist group "Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform" putting up a banner reading "[Give] the children correct history textbooks" 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.[5]

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,[6]: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.[7][8]

Fictional usage[edit]

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[edit]

See also[edit]


  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. 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>
  5. "China Raps Japanese Politician for Whitewashing History". Retrieved 2006-10-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Template:Cite Algorithmic Game Theory 2007
  7. 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>
  8. 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
  9. "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>
  10. "LP: 'The biggest environmental crime in history'". Libertypost.org. 10 December 2007. Retrieved 2013-11-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "'Think Before You Pink'". Thinkbeforeyoupink.org. 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2013-11-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links[edit]