Jason Rantz, KTTH, March 30, 2022
A King County agency hosted a radical seminar that claimed dieting and traditional concepts of health are racist. But it was the rules for who could attend that were racist: it purposefully excluded white people.
In fact, when a white person showed up, he was banned from the meeting. And county officials tried to cover this controversy up.
The King County Department of Human Resources announced the remote workshop, “Anti-Blackness and Diet Culture,” in an all-staff email newsletter. It was part of the county’s Balanced You program, which focuses on staff wellness. Tacoma-based Liberating Jasper, which conducted the workshop, claims dieting is harmful to black people, and that “Western ideals of attractiveness and health are steeped in whiteness.” It even implies that obesity can be healthy.
Despite claims to the contrary, the workshop intentionally excluded white people. Indeed, the event was promoted both publicly and privately for “BIPOC employees only.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office claimed the discriminatory description of the event was in error. But scores emails obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH reveal the intention was, in fact, to exclude white people.
In an email to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Executive Constantine’s office confirmed the KCSO staffer was banned from the workshop. But initially, spokesperson Chase Gallagher blamed it on a technical error.
Gallagher said, “the vendor had technical issues on their end with the session, which impacted several people that got bumped out and then weren’t able to rejoin.”
But this was not true. The complainant was removed because he is white.
After the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH asked about the incident, county spokesperson Gallagher says he “was told that there were technical difficulties faced by the vendor that resulted in several participants being removed and unable to rejoin, and not a deliberate act.”
But after an internal investigation, it became clear: an unidentified staff member lied about what happened.
When the county was initially questioned about the “BIPOC only” event, the spokesperson responded with a claim that the workshop description was “not as clear as it could have been.” Internal emails consistently show that the claim is untrue.
In late 2021, Johnson, the county Employee Health & Well-Being Specialist, emailed the Black African American Affinity Group at King County about upcoming workshops around body positivity.
“And, here’s what to look forward to in 2022: Identity specific workshop series (workshops open to: BIPOC, people of size/in larger bodies, and LGBTQ+ folks only),” she wrote.
In a weekly report to managers in November 2021, Johnson again explained the upcoming workshops was exclusionary. The language for the event was reviewed by Stephanie Guzman-Barrera of the Office of Equity & Social Justice on January 3.
“No concerns from me this looks great. Thank you Shawna for your work on this! Really excited to see the intersectionality approach of anti-blackness and anti-fatness,” Guzman-Barrera replied.
When an employee struggled to sign up for one of the workshops, she emailed Johnson for assistance on January 6. After offering guidance, Johnson wrote, “also note: the content for the two workshops will be very similar, one is just a BIPOC only session which will hold more space for BIPOC folks to show up.”
Another employee emailed Johnson: “Quick question, the BIPOC employees only, does that include Hispanic? It says anti-blackness but you mention brown bodies as well. It’s a bit confusing.”
Johnson replied: “Yes, BIPOC does include Hispanic.”
In an email from a staff member over confusion on which session she was registered in, HR staffer Anna Micklin responded: “I see you are signed up for the session on Thursday, Feb. 17 from noon to 1 p.m. This is the one designed to be a safe space for BIPOC employees only.”
The employee wrote back: “Thank you for checking, yes I am black and white mixed so I’m really glad this session [sic].”
In an all-staff email on January 11, the executive assistant to HR leaders included a PDF of the final draft agenda for an upcoming staff meeting. It listed the event as “For BIPOC employees only.”
Even the contract with Liberating Jasper to conduct the workshop details the race-based intent: “Access to after-program weekly support groups for up to 10 weeks for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and Spanish-speaking populations.”
BIPOC-only wellness events were pitched as early as 2021, and one county employee was concerned. She emailed her thoughts to the county’s Health and Well-being Project Program Manager Megan Jourdan on April 30, 2021.
“Inviting only BIPOC front-line employees to participate in the hour-long stress group is ridiculous. You do realize everyone regardless of being BIPOC or not could benefit from this? This, I feel is racist,” the staff member wrote.
Jourdan defended the BIPOC-only events in response.
It is important to note that King County leads with racial justice. We know the pandemic has been incredibly difficult for everyone. We also know that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted BIPOC communities across a range of health and economic outcomes, and that BIPOC individuals and communities have endured additional layers of traumatic experiences throughout the past year. Just as King County promotes equity by designating spaces for BIPOC employees via Affinity Groups, Balanced You promotes equity by designating healing spaces co-designed by and for BIPOC employees.
When the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH asked about the legality of racially-segregated “Anti-Blackness and Diet Culture” workshops, Jourdan forwarded this earlier guidance as the county formulated a response to my inquiries. She noted that, “Balanced You received approval from several layers of leadership to design and market spaces for BIPOC employees.”
Jourdan noted that the “Anti-Blackness and Diet Culture” workshop purposefully excluded white employees, but it was permitted because they offered a separate workshop for all employees, too.
As the county communications team was crafting responses to questions about the BIPOC-only workshop, staffers removed mentions of “BIPOC-only” from the workshop descriptions online. It was replaced with “(open to all county employees).” This was done, according to Gallagher, because the intent was always to have the workshops open to all employees.
Several hundred emails and pages of documents show that officials knew the workshop wasn’t merely promoted to exclude white staff. That was the intent. Only after questions about its legality from the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, did the staff edit out those references.