verb (used with object)
- to cast a white actor to play (a character of color, or a character belonging to a minority group) in a film, television show, or play:The studio executives whitewashed the role of Genghis Khan, choosing a famous white actor who was a popular box-office draw.
- to exclude or erase (a minority character or group) by substituting a member or members of the dominant cultural group in fictional representations of historical events:The film whitewashes Black trans women, attributing their contributions and actions to white gay men.See also erase (def. 6).
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OTHER WORDS FROM whitewashwhite·wash·er, nounwhite·wash·ing, nounun·white·washed, adjective
Words nearby whitewash
What does whitewash mean?
To whitewash is to intentionally hide some kind of wrongdoing, error, or unpleasant situation—or deal with it in a way that attempts to make it seem less bad than it is.
Whitewash can also be used as a noun referring to the deceptive words or actions used to cover something up in this way.
These figurative senses of the word come from its original, literal meaning: to cover or whiten with whitewash—a paintlike substance used to whiten surfaces like walls and wood. The word sometimes simply means to paint something white. (A classic passage in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain involves Tom Sawyer tricking other boys into whitewashing a fence for him.)
The metaphor used in the figurative sense of the word is that of painting over flaws to cover them up instead of actually fixing them. This often involves only superficially addressing the problem, trying to distract from it, or trying to change the subject. The verb phrases gloss over and cover up are used in similar ways.
Example: The PR team has continually tried to whitewash the scandal by suggesting that the company was a victim of its own CEO’s negligence.
More recently, the word whitewash has become a slang term meaning to cast a white actor to play a character of color, such as in a TV show or movie. For example, if a movie were made based on a comic book in which a character was Asian, casting a white actor to play that character would be an instance of whitewashing.
Whitewash is also used in situations in which members of a marginalized group are excluded or erased through substitution with members of the dominant cultural group, such as in fictional representations of historical events.
The adjective whitewashed is sometimes used in a negative way to describe people of color whose identity or personality is thought to be more like that of their white peers than that of other people with the same cultural identity, especially when they primarily associate with white people. The term is typically used by people of color to criticize other people of color, such as those in immigrant or communities who are thought to have assimilated to the dominant white culture without maintaining many or any elements of their own cultural identity.
Example: Finally, we get a film in which we see a realistic depiction of the Black and Indigenous women behind the movement—not a version of the story that has been whitewashed by Hollywood.
Where does whitewash come from?
The first records of the word whitewash come from the late 1500s. It started to be used in a figurative way around the 1700s. (The more recent term greenwash is modeled on whitewash and refers to a superficial concern for environmental matters that is displayed by a company or organization to make it appear environmentally friendly.)
The sense of whitewash that involves downplaying, minimizing, or brushing off faults, problems, or negative information is especially used in the context of official political and corporate communications intended to hide scandalous information. Such words and actions are intended to deceptively cover over (or cover up) faults and scandals, not repair them—hence the metaphor. Things that have been whitewashed in this way can be said to have been swept under the rug (another expression based on a metaphor that involves hiding negative things).
The more recent sense of whitewash typically uses the word white in reference to white people. The term references the long history of white actors being hired instead of Black actors and other people of color due to racism, and the lack of representation that has resulted from it.
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What are some other forms related to whitewash?
- whitewashing (continuous tense verb, noun)
- whitewasher (noun)
What are some synonyms for whitewash?
What are some words that share a root or word element with whitewash?
What are some words that often get used in discussing whitewash?
How is whitewash used in real life?
The figurative senses of whitewash are typically used in serious and critical ways.
Watergate-gate, or how the Nixon library has whitewashed the scandal that brought down a president: http://t.co/jOtH3fBIH7
— Mark Z. Barabak (@markzbarabak) March 1, 2013
I'm all for the home office to release the report in regards to grooming gangs.
However, I sincerely hope that the report isn't simply a whitewash, and the issue was properly and thoroughly investigated. I guess we won't know until it's released or leaked.
— Sir Peter Morris "Thank God we're out" (@petemorristwit) March 9, 2020
— Haben Girma (@HabenGirma) October 11, 2020
Your discomfort at acknowledging Black History Month @wandsworthlibs is exactly why such a month is necessary. The haste to whitewash it and make it a “diversity” month instead speaks volumes. Stop erasing blackness.
— machine gun Kele (@kelechnekoff) October 2, 2018
Have you been to #Santorini? 🇬🇷 This must-visit island is known for it's whitewashed buildings, impressive views, scenic streets and much more ☀️ Find out more here: https://t.co/Igw5jTSExj pic.twitter.com/0Xxk8McXeT
— Jet2tweets (@jet2tweets) October 9, 2020
Try using whitewash!
Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of whitewash?
B. cover up
Example sentences from the Web for whitewash
González was on the brink of unconsciousness when a rescue jet ski swooped in to save him from the swirling whitewash.Training for Big-Wave Surfing? It's All in Your Head.|Kade Krichko|November 22, 2020|Outside Online
In the latest Weekly Standard can be found an editorial under the headline “The Benghazi Whitewash.”
Plus, on cable you no longer have to whitewash the story and appease the masses, so the narratives are getting more interesting.Jeremy Renner Opens Up About Marriage, His Problems with the Media, and the Future of Hawk-Eye|Marlow Stern|September 29, 2014|DAILY BEAST
“We help whitewash monasteries, rebuild structures, and teach English and math in classrooms,” Reed says.
She must whitewash these brown men and women, rid them of their savage, slavish ways, and repaint them in her own image.The Abused Wives of Westeros: A Song of Feminism in ‘Game of Thrones’|Amy Zimmerman|April 30, 2014|DAILY BEAST
I just wasn't cut out to be a whitewash salesman, so to speak.Bob Kurland, the First Player to Dunk, Was a Pioneer for Big Men|Kevin Fixler|March 21, 2014|DAILY BEAST
To quote Mrs. Kaye, 'A Liberal peer is as useful as a fifth wheel to a coach, and as ornamental as whitewash.'Ancestors|Gertrude Atherton
Historians, as a rule, are more given to the use of whitewash than a political investigating committee.The Affable Stranger|Peter McArthur
Dean Percy removed the whitewash from some of them, and they are now all restored to their original condition as far as possible.Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Carlisle|C. King Eley
A good deal of whitewash has flowed past the fence, but Tom Sawyer's trick still holds good.Seeing Things at Night|Heywood Broun
I do not wish to eulogize, still less to whitewash, so great a man, but only to render simple justice to his memory and deeds.Beacon Lights of History, Volume XII|John Lord