Why can't we delegate the struggle for civil and social rights to companies? The example of the rainbow washing of the month of Pride.
We have already talked about how companies wash their conscience and try to obtain the "inclusivity stamp" through minimal efforts, purely artificial and facade. in this article on performative progressivism.
And, for those wondering, doing performative progressivism and / or tokenism is not the same as adhering to politically correct, which we have spoken about instead. in this article.
Since we are in June, that is in the Pride month, we are witnessing a phenomenon, implemented by companies and multinationals, very similar to performative progressivism, and which could almost be defined as a sub-category of it. We are talking about the rainbow washing.
But what is it exactly?
Why does it tend to be a way of doing that does not de facto help the marginalized realities that celebrate Pride, ie the whole queer community?
In this article we will try to shed some light on these issues.
What is the rainbow washing?
Il rainbow washing it is a practice that is mainly carried out by companies. In fact, it consists of the show a supportive facade towards queer people, without doing anything really concrete to help the LGBTQIA + community.
Generally, the supportive facade is created through small advertising campaigns, the sale of thematic material or, more simply, using a rainbow graphic for your logo during Pride month.
Il rainbow washing of companies has like obiettivo increasing its customer base. So, "rainbow" your logo in June is much more a way to get queer people to buy their products than to actually support the LGBTQIA + community.
In fact, as it also points out in this great video on the matter made by Liguria Pride, usually the profits from the sale of Pride-themed materials are unlikely to be donated to charities that help queer people. And it is always rare for companies to actually actively support queer people, by making donations to realities in the sector.
Furthermore, often the rainbow logo it is also adopted by companies that have policies that are not exactly friendly towards queer people. PayPal is one example, which makes it very difficult for trans people not to use their deadname.
Why doesn't corporate "support" help the queer community?
That said, it should also be noted that the very existence of the rainbow washing demonstrates how supporting (albeit only nominally) queer people is today in our society economically advantageous.
Thus, we can say that the rainbow washing is a child of times when queer people are less demonized by society, and therefore is an indicator of a more welcoming society.
However, we must not forget that, generally, the companies that do rainbow washing, carrying out generalist and vanilla slogans such as love is love, they don't support the entire queer community.
The real queer community: multifaceted and in contrast to traditional society
In fact, the queer community is made up of many realities, which often and willingly question the traditional family model, which is nuclear, monogamous and, in essence, hetero-patriarchal (and inevitably linked to a capitalist economic model).
In recent years, however, during the struggles for egalitarian marriage and other civil rights, a discourse very much based on the make queer realities non-threatening for the straight society, not made up of "strange people" and therefore that would not have led to the breakup of our society. However, this reassuring narrative is not very truthful, because most queer identities have no place in the structures prepared by our society.
For example, trans people question the traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity. Asexual and demisexual people question the centrality of sex as a necessary and fundamental part of a romantic relationship. Polyamorous people question the concept of monogamy and the nuclear family.
The queer community supported by companies: the one "equal to straight"
But companies don't support this kind of queer community, because it's too disruptive.
With their vanilla and tranquilizer acronyms, companies support an idea of a queer person who conforms to traditional society. So let's talk about the wealthy white gay couple who lives in their terraced house with two adopted children. We are talking about people like Ellen DeGeneres, perfectly integrated among the rich on television and who treats her (less rich and powerful) collaborators very badly.
The point of view of companies is, therefore, that which accept queer people only as long as they are no longer, in fact, queer, that is strange.
However, the point of Pride is that queer people have a right to exist regardless of their weirdness and their deviation from traditional norms. Pride doesn't exist to show straight and cisgender people that queer people are equal to them.
On the contrary, Pride exists to remind straight and cisgender people that queer people exist, are different from them, but are entitled to their same rights. And that therefore you have to make this thing go well.
How to avoid the rainbow washing?
It's not always easy to understand if and to what extent a company that supports the queer community is actually sincere. As also pointed out by this article, to avoid supporting companies that do rainbow washing it should be done numerous checks, which involve both their internal policies and their charity policies.
Furthermore, just doing charity isn't always enough on its own to clean up a superficial advertising campaign. This was, for example, the case of Marks & Spencer's sandwiches, which in 2019 had introduced the sad sandwich LGBT (lettuce, guacamole, bacon, tomato). The lack of delicacy with which M&S have appropriated this acronym has raised several grievances, although the company had donated much of the proceeds from those sandwiches to queer causes.
And who was talking about queer issues even before?
It is also necessary to differentiate between the companies that have started doing rainbow washing only after the legalization of same-sex marriage in all of the USA, in 2015, and those that instead showed support even before.
In the fields dear to us nerdy people, we can also see only realities like Bioware and Paizo. Bioware, a software house that has created video games such as Dragon Age, Mass Effect e Knights of the Old Republic, has been inserting non-straight stories into his works since 2003. Paizo, on the other hand, a publisher of role-playing games such as Pathfinder, Pathfinder 2e e Star Finder, has been inserting queer characters and stories into their works since 2011.
One of the ways to understand if a company or a reality is actually attentive to queer issues is to see if it talks about these issues also outside the month of Pride. However, this is not a strategy that gives certainty either. In fact, for example, this winter Israel ran an advertising campaign to promote tourism, in which it did de facto rainbow washing. We talk about it better in this article de The mistake.
A safe choice: buying from small queer businesses
In general, if you want to be on the safe side, it is always advisable buy queer themed products from queer people.
First, this way you will generally be supporting small businesses, which often struggle to stay afloat against giants like Amazon. However, they are no less valid and tend to do a very thorough job, like we have already seen with reality like Editions asterisk.
Secondly, by doing this you will be sure to support queer people, who often work alone and run errands. So, generally you would be sure that you are not supporting people who, at Ellen DeGeneris, exploit their workers.