When history books, schoolteachers, movies, and pop culture omit—or even casually gloss over—the contributions, lived experiences, and excellence of our marginalized communities in favour of the accounts of colonial, white populations, this is called “whitewashing.”
According to the dictionary, one definition of whitewashing is “to alter (something) in a way that favors, features, or caters to white people.” Whether it’s the controversial casting of a white actress like Scarlett Johansson to play the role of an Asian character in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, or the fact that the tragic 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was never taught in schools, whitewashing shows up in many different ways.
Examples of whitewashing, which you will read more about in this piece, can cause non-white communities to assimilate. In individuals and communities, assimilation can lead to a loss of identity and belonging, feelings of inferiority, deep-rooted shame, and a lack of self-worth.
In our systems and society, whitewashing can fuel racism, prejudice, bias, xenophobia, and violence against non-white communities.
A form of gaslighting, whitewashing not only impacts our global communities today, but also casts a shadow on the progress we are all striving to make toward more equitable, just societies for the future.
To take action against whitewashing, we must explore the myriad ways that it manifests itself in our culture, history, systems, and society.
Learning about past and present examples of whitewashing can help us recognize these toxic cycles and take action to reduce them, and eventually prevent them from happening.
Let’s start by exploring 20 infamous cases of whitewashing over the years.