“Pinkwashing” is a term coined by Sarah Schulman of the New York Times in 2011. It describes how Israel uses a pro-LGBTQ platform to “gain points” for open-minded progressivism to hide a refusal to engage in a progressive dialogue about the Palestinian conflict. The word has been used since then to describe the similar practice by countries, politicians, and corporations: anyone or entity that uses LGBTQ openness as a way of garnering favor and distracting from, and thereby enabling, an underlying harmful or distasteful practice related to a separate issue more central to that person’s or entity’s core agenda.
Some in the queer community have expressed appreciation and support for the progressivism related to LGBTQ issues, while others have decried the practice as manipulative and self-serving and the very antitheses of progressivism. Allies and others outside the queer community who might look to queer folks for guidance can find, instead, another example of a kind of “transferred oppression” when straight people, observing this conflict, say “See, LGBTQ folks don’t even agree. Let them fight it out.” We minimize the larger LGBTQ issues. Whenever people in marginalized groups “fight it out,” the dominant group wins…in this case, it is heteronormativity in general.
In the Power of Difference Model, whatever side of the pinkwashing analysis a person takes, underneath, we find there is always an “under-expressed” need or pattern that is “asking” for support and voice internally. These patterns are typically unconscious. Most people primarily hold one of three.
We call the first one Sensitivity, though there is no particular order. This pattern leads us to want to “get others to get it.” When we hold or value this pattern, we are likely to be sensitive to most differences but believe that others need to be, somewhat ironically, sensitive like this person perceives herself to be. We may often feel stuck, not knowing how to be both sensitive but also hold strong boundaries.
A second pattern we call Oneness, which is held by about 65% of people. From this “lens,” we believe it is more important to focus on how we are the same. We devalue differences. Concerning pinkwashing, our analysis will be predicated on whatever helps people to “get along” and avoid conflict. We can minimize differences.
The third primary pattern we see, we call Strength. From this “location,” we evaluate difference and seek conflict as the crucible in which our “mettle” is tested and leadership cultivated and proven. With regard to pinkwashing, whether we are queer, an ally, or even a homophobic opponent of LGBTQ issues, we are likely to be combative and protective of a sub-group to which we identify.
While each of these patterns has gifts and weaknesses, it is the awareness of them inside of each of us and their eventual integration that we are invited to consider. In this process, we learn to leverage the assets of each and become less destabilized by others’ opinions, actions, beliefs, or feelings. We can hold our own boundaries with ferocity if need be while also,] holding and enjoying our common humanity.
We begin to recognize that whatever our analyses of pinkwashing, or any other politically loaded position, these can represent a vehicle in which we invest our passion and identity and, in so doing, avoid this critical internal awareness and integration process.
The essence of this process involves “owning” our projections in this way: we notice the positions and people that “bug” us and, instead of passing judgment on them, we consider what critical aspect or asset they hold that we deny ourselves! If they seem combative, are there ways we are invited to have stronger boundaries? If they seem to over-focus on oneness, can we, instead, focus on experiencing a compassionate connection to them? If they seem frozen in political correctness, can we acknowledge the importance of their value for diversity?