Monday, November 28, 2011


Whitewashing, a centuries-old chore of priming your to-be-painted surfaces, painting outdoor surfaces with a low-cost and temporarily effective paint, is a colloquialism that has evolved to mean a kind of window-dressing. Just as you could decide, instead of paying the money to paint your fence, to just whitewash it, you may decide, instead of investing in a quality plan to execute, to just do the minimum and hope no one notices.

[Blank]washing has not yet taken on nearly the level of buzzword status of as [Blank]gate (Watergate, Nipplegate, Rathergate, Weinergate) but in light of a lot of tepid do-gooder efforts, maybe it's time.

We've heard of greenwashing - Wal-mart has been accused of hyping its not-all-that-impressive efforts at sustainability even as negative aspects of its track record go unaddressed.

But over at In These Times, Josh Eidelson takes Starbucks to task for a different kind of [Blank]washing - selling little bracelets, and donating proceeds to businesses or non-profits in the hopes they will hire some more people. (Eidelson is a former co-worker who, in the interest of full disclosure, is awesome.) You should read the article to get the gist, but I guess you could call Starbucks' program Recoverywashing or Charitywashing, or maybe just Goodwashing.

A lot of things bother me about Starbucks' approach. I think what most infuriates me is that, in my memory, these types of bracelets originated with cancer awareness. It wasn't that you got a yellow, purple, red, pink or white bracelet and huffed around like you had done your part. It was a call to do more. Starbucks' bracelets are a way to say, "Yep, $5 with my AM coffee is enough."

Another message I get an earful of that troubles me is "Oh, at least Starbucks is doing something about the recession." No. What is actually happening is that you are essentially paying into a slush fund of a company that has taken over its market and whose success has driven others out of business. You are giving your money for a company to give to a company of their own choosing. Why not choose yourself? Why not take that $5 and buy something at a business you support on Etsy or Kickstarter? Or buy your coffee at a local place and pump money into the business of someone who could be your neighbor, or your kids' classmates' family?

I'll be interested to see who bites and gets the bracelet. Meanwhile, I'm excited to try Blessed Coffee for my next caffeinated treat. No bracelets there, at least.


jrkrideau said...

I always thought that whitewashing was painting a surface with whitewash. It's a kind of lime based paint. I never liked the texture but it was common in barns or stables back when I was a boy.

As far as I know it had nothing to do with priming a surface for an oil or latex based paint.

E. said...

I stand corrected (and post stands updated). Thank you for educating me!

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