Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Spark of Wisdom: The art of rainbow-washing

This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

There is a delightful habit I’ve seen all over the place, that I call rainbow washing.

I took the term from some very cynical and very accurate environmentalists who spoke of companies “greenwashing” themselves. It was a very clever marketing ploy – you have a company that has all the environmental record of a cartoon villain and then they’ll slap on a green sign, maybe add a few flowers and awwwww they’re so good for the environment. Or maybe they’d announce that they’ve installed energy saving lightbulbs in their head office and started recycling memos while dumping defoliant in any nearby woodland.

I’m sure we’ve all seen something similar. A company with a terrible environmental record decides to make some minor gestures so we believe they’re green and shiny.

And so it is with Rainbow-washing. It’s an easy process of making some very easy speeches , some nice PR moves. Do something quick and easy and relatively costless (and, sadly, often relatively meaningless) without any real commitment and effort. When the time or opportunity arises to make similar gestures – or actual real commitments and actions – in favour of GBLT equality they’re suddenly very very absent.

An almost text book example of this? The latest McDonald’s ad kafuffle. McDonalds makes a, on the face of it relatively gay friendly advert (I don’t think it’s unproblematic. I do think that the slogan “come as you are” with someone who is closeted and hiding what they are is an unmixed message, but that’s another topic, and added to my to do list) to film in France, which it views as relatively gay-friendly (or, to be more accurate, relatively less anti-gay).

Of course, they’d never run that advert in the US, or anywhere that is seen as more anti-gay than France. They’re not going to take any risk or actually invest anything in reaching out to us – but they want our money. They’re quite willing to pander to bigots, and throw us out when it suits them. And it’s not surprising that the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (note, I don’t know enough about this org to endorse them or not) has severed its ties with McDonalds since it seems the company has been willing to use the NGLCC to get its logo out there in GBLT spaces but has been as awkward as they come when actually working with them.

We’ve seen it in politics. Anyone subjected to my journal has seen me rant and rave about the Tory party’s Rainbow-washing. The Tories having an almost universal anti-gay stance for not only the majority of MPs but also the majority of the cabinet. (And It’s almost funny that, when Chris Grayling came forward in favour of hoteliers denying service to gay people, you replaced him Theresa May as Home Secretary who has an even worse voting record than he does – and made her Equalities Minister to boot! Oh yes, I laughed. Once I‘d finished swearing). But send a few MPs to Pride Parades, some gay clubs and have a GBLT reception at No. 10 and that Rainbow-Washes over it nicely, right? Make a speech, pose for some photo opportunities and behold, the Rainbow flag is draped over all that nasty homophobia.

And, sadly, it does sometimes work. Yes, hands up, it does. When you take people who have been nigh universally demonised for so long, then any gesture of sympathy or solidarity can be praised far beyond its worth. When so many companies, authority figures, politicians and religious leaders are still stuck on the “ewwww, gays, icky!” (and that’s when they’re being polite), when adverts with any gay presence at all are nigh non-existent (and especially for mainstream viewing) then even the slightest gesture is often greeted by much leaping up and down and cheering.

I think it’s vital to recognise when someone is an ally and when they’re hiding behind a Rainbow flag. I think it’s vital to recognise and that’s doubly important now, in Pride season, to recognise who is standing with us -and has stood with us – and who is trying to use some large Rainbows to cover up a lot of stink. Or those who will walk with us so long as they can access our wallets, our votes and some free good-will when they have done little or nothing to earn it. Especially when their actions deserve our enmity not our friendship.

Don’t be bought by pretty words, crumbs and a pat on the head – no matter how starved for anything but scorn we may sometimes feel. Don’t let a draped Rainbow flag hide what is beneath. And no amount of Rainbow-washing will make someone a friend, ally – or even not an enemy,