When the city of Seattle hired Joshua Diemert in 2013, his title was “Program Adoption Representative” and his job was to connect city residents to public resources. He resigned after nine years, convinced he could no longer work in an office where he said he faced widespread racial harassment and discrimination.
“It’s the culture of the workplace, how people talk to you,” Diemert says Because of “You can’t get away with it.” He filed suit in November 2022, alleging that the city’s racially hostile work environment harmed his mental and physical health.
What makes his situation unusual among racial discrimination cases is that Diemert is a white man. The so-called anti-racism training sponsored by the city government’s Racial and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), he argued, was inspired.
“The city of Seattle believes that race representation is paramount, and they believe that people should not be judged by their personalities or their individual actions, but by their collective race,” said Diemert. “In fact, they say that if you judge people by personality, it was actually a tool of white supremacy that was used to oppress people of color.”
The environment Diemert describes is almost too toxic and oppressive to believe; By his account, Seattle’s RSJI program sounds like a conservative’s nightmare of a progressive workplace — something that would be ruthlessly parodied. South Park or Portlandia. But his allegation is backed by hard evidence: actual copies of the anti-queer training documents the city uses. In fact, these documents can still be found on the city’s RSJI website.
The training is based on the highly controversial and much-criticized work of Tema Okun, a consultant who identifies issues such as perfectionism, timeliness, sense of urgency and aspects of “white supremacy culture”. (Okun is a white woman.) Okun has had a significant impact on the diversity and equity industry, and these ideas often come up in the training materials of educational seminars. A similar work by author Judith Katz—also a white woman—previously appeared on the website of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Okun was interviewed recently The Interceptof Ryan Grimm, who has reported at length on dysfunction within progressive organizations. He expressed deep doubts about the weaponization of his work and asked Grimm to publish an updated version in which he qualified many of his original claims.
“It became clear to me that quite a few people were abusing it,” he said.
The city of Seattle can provide a case study in such abuses.
According to Dymart, a supervisor reprimanded him for refusing to resign and give his job to a person of color. He says he was asked, “What can a straight white male offer our department?” And he says he was often made to participate in RSJI training, which involved humiliating games and activities designed to address his perceived complicity in white supremacy.
“On more than one occasion in training, I was forced to do things like play privilege bingo or stand up in front of everyone and place myself on a racist continuum,” he says.
Refusal to participate was rarely an option: it was labeled “white silence”, a significant transgression. The opposition to the agenda was worse, of course.
“If I disagreed or offered another opinion, I was told I had cognitive dissonance and that my defensiveness was evidence of racist white supremacy,” he says.
RSJI’s clear mission statement was to inject caste-based considerations into government work. A document summarizing the priorities of the listed initiatives color blindness, Not as a positive thing, but an obstacle to overcome. Another describes color blindness as “centric whiteness”.
“Institutionalizing the Racial Equity Toolkit has become our most important priority because we know that the effects of racial disparities cannot be assessed or addressed without constraining the way departments of color make decisions.”
Demart says his former colleagues took the mission very seriously. In fact, he discovered that a colleague had rejected a qualified white applicant from a public assistant program specifically because of the applicant’s race.
“I asked him, well, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” he recalled. “Why did you deny this person? And he said, well, because they have white privilege.”
Diemert said he reported the matter to his supervisor — it was, in his view, blatant racial discrimination — but nothing was done about it.
A similar philosophy guided the city’s hiring practices. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and layoffs became necessary, supervisors openly discussed the strategy of starting with white employees and using RSJI as an excuse.
Training sessions felt more like struggle sessions. At one workshop, “Undoing Institutional Racism,” whites were described as devils and cannibals with racism in their DNA, according to DeMarte. Another session, “Intrinsic Racial Excellence,” was specifically targeted at white and white-identifying workers.
On December 23, 2020, Diemert filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that RSJI policies were creating a racially hostile and discriminatory workplace. The complaint was investigated by the city’s human resources department. Demart was not particularly surprised when the chief investigator cleared the city of any wrongdoing, since the investigator himself was part of an entity operating under the RSJI banner.
Diemert’s lawsuit, which was amended last month to include additional claims that Seattle violated local and state laws, alleges that the city has widely violated his constitutional rights. The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a libertarian public interest law firm, is representing him.
“The freedom to be treated with dignity and to be treated as an individual regardless of the color of your skin is something that the Pacific Legal Foundation fully defends and supports,” said PLF attorney Andrew Quinio. “And that’s why we took Joshua’s case.”
The city of Seattle did not respond to a request for comment.
“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” is the mantra of one type of training module that focuses on eliminating racism in schools, business, and government. Related concerns about “critical race theory” — an ever-well-defined concept often associated with work by consultants like Okun — have become central to the Republican Party’s campaign against alleged political indoctrination in K-12 education, government contracts, and corporate America.
Some liberals claim that these concerns are overblown, and they correctly point out that GOP efforts to clean up critical race theory are often as mixed as ideas. Even Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, famous for his research against vigilantism, Advised against Trying to ban teaching Concepts from critical race theory in schools.
But it should be controversial to say that the government should not practice racial discrimination, especially in the name of promoting anti-racism. And whatever the initial intent, Okun’s work on white supremacy culture clearly caused damage in many workplaces—something that was not lost on him.
His work, he emphasized, “has been well used by lots and lots of people.” But he admits that’s not always the case. “I heard a story here about a young white man who went after a black woman who was his supervisor with a list,” he said. The Intercept. “I hear of young white people going after white bosses and colored bosses. I hear of black, Aboriginal and colored employees going against white bosses. [the work] Abused by lots and lots of people.”