Thursday, February 2, 2017

Resisting Division: Recognizing Pinkwashing

This article is part of a series that addresses attempts to divide oppressed populations and pit us against one another. This insidious tactic is being used to bolster fascism in a precursory strategy to institute a white nationalist and totalitarian vision of the United States. As a transgender/queer person, my critiques are built on socialist/communist/anarchist principles through the lens of queer theory and critical trans politics – schools of thought deeply indebted to critical race theory, Black Feminist Theory, and decolonial theory (see Dean Spade’s “Normal Life” for more on critical trans politics).

I just read through the language of the executive order banning immigrants and refugees, and I'm so angry. I’m not going to get into how abhorrent this action was as an attack on Muslims, immigrants, and refugees, or the legalities behind it; I’ll leave that up to legal experts who have been examining the effects it will have on individuals and families, the constitutionality of this action, and its implications for our political economy. I also encourage you to read work by writers who are Muslim, immigrants, or refugees to better understand the impact and historical significance of this act.

However, I think it’s important to recognize the language of division employed in this executive order. The division is being pushed using a key tactic that has emerged over the last few decades and become a hallmark of left co-optation and the strengthening of violent institutions: pinkwashing.

If you’re not familiar with the term, pinkwashing is a concept that describes the use of LGBTQ+ rights to normalize violent institutions and actions through distraction and division among oppressed groups.

While pinkwashing here is used to denote the use of LGBTQ+ rights as a justification, we most often see this tactic used publicly when an argument is made to protect women – particularly white, cisgender, straight, Christian women. It’s important to point out this tactic now not only because it’s been happening for decades, but because we will continue to see it used as a way to justify violence on behalf of the Trump administration.

For more context, here are some examples where it’s been used to successfully bolster violent institutions and disengage the left: the rhetoric of white, patriarchal saviorism to rescue “oppressed” Iraqi and Afghani women in order to garner support for the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and opening combat roles to women as a way to portray the military “as a site of liberation and freedom when it is the most significant source of violence on the planet”; the promotion of Israel as a gay haven from the supposedly inherent anti-queer nature of Islam and Middle Eastern countries in order to normalize the occupation and settler colonialism of Palestine; Pride event sponsoring by banks like Wells Fargo to distract from their racist and classist policies that prey on poor people of color in particular; and many others.

We can see pinkwashing at the end of the first section of Trump’s executive order:

… the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.

This language draws on our imagination, invoking an “other” that is hostile to “American” values of religious liberty and civil rights. While there are many problems with this, we can see the way pinkwashing is used in the last line. The Trump administration is encouraging division by portraying Muslims, immigrants, and refugees – though not white people that fit this description, of course – as oppressors who are hostile to equality and safety here in America.

First, this argument ignores the fact that LGBTQ+ Muslims, immigrants, and refugees are being affected by this. Its logic denies the existence of LGBTQ+ people at any intersection other than whiteness and ability.

Second, it highlights certain truths (the practice of “honor” killings, religious persecution, violence against women, etc.) only to then convince us of a moral failing on behalf of the people who have been affected by this executive order. The mixture of certain truths – especially those that are in conflict with Western/Protestant morals – with outright lies makes pinkwashing even more potent as a divisive tactic. By falsely drawing strict lines around identity categories, those with more privilege (white, non-disabled, cisgender, etc.) are fed a false narrative that they/we are above the “other,” that the “other” is antithetical to safety, communities, and values.

Finally, it implies that Americans are not already subject to “acts of bigotry and hatred” or oppression on the basis of “race, gender, or sexual orientation.” This, of course, is patently false. Not only are we subjected to bigotry, hatred, and systemic oppression, the violence that results from this subjugation is happening largely at the hands of conservative policies and government institutions that are hostile to our livelihood and which collectively decrease our life chances.

Overall, the pinkwashing in this executive order is an attempt to normalize hatred and bigotry against Muslims, immigrants, and refugees by invoking in our imaginations a threat to (white/non-Muslim) LGBTQ+ Americans that could not be solved any other way than banning them from already stolen land.

Now that we see the arguments being used by the Trump administration to divide us, it’s time we resist. How do you resist division?

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