While I may not have joined the university with high expectations of the department in my counseling role, I am ashamed to say that I fell hook, line, and sinker for their propaganda when I was offered a different role in an equity office …
Some know my employer as “a globally top-ranked public research university in Toronto” but having survived employment there since 2018, I know it as Jordan Peterson’s stomping grounds.
I joined the institution well aware of its fuckery. I knew that I had only infiltrated that space thanks to a model minority clinician who mistakenly believed she had found another one of her, but in me. With that clear understanding on my end, I did my best to code switch until I completed my six-month probation.
While I may not have joined the university with high expectations of the department in my counseling role, I am ashamed to say that I fell hook, line, and sinker for their propaganda when I was offered a different role in an equity office. (I have since come to refer to this office as “an equity office in name only.”)
That time I got my ‘equity office’ hopes dashed
Even though it’s been two years, I can still easily remember my excitement at the beginning of that first day of work for that new position supporting students with disabilities through accommodations.
Of course, it would only be a matter of hours into that first day, before a white woman insisted that one Black colleague bore the name of another, and then she had the audacity to tell me that she hoped I was not taking this interaction to mean something negative about her.
Four days after that, she would begin our equity training session by letting us know that she often later regrets statements that she makes, which is why she wanted us to just kindly accept that her heart is always in the right place, even when something she says may come across wrong.
In some ways, these early experiences should have told me what to expect, but I did not listen.
That time I tried to teach a white woman about equity — and failed
In our time together, this white woman would eventually describe me as “angry.”
I learned this from a BIPOC colleague and felt infuriated because, I mean, I had painstakingly toned shit down for this white woman — from stopping myself from constantly asking, “What the fuck?” to calmly explain, as if to a child, the equity lens of impact over intent.
Why was I even surprised that this was my experience at my latest job though? Why was I surprised when my experiences and the experiences of other BIPOC folx taught me not to be surprised?
Like, I once had to take legal action against my executive director at a medical practice for white supremacist workplace harassment. In another instance, a white woman executive director had let me go for not meeting her arbitrary standards before my probation ended. My termination coincidentally happened shortly after I confronted that nonprofit on their racism.
And unfortunately, this type of fuckery is what we navigate daily when we devote our very lives to helping others. I know I certainly wish BIPOC folx further along in their careers had warned me to expect all this. Back then, though, I still believed that there were privileged white folx who simply just did not know what they did not know. It is why I wasted so much of my time doing the soul-crushing hand-holding, trying to provide psychoeducation to them.
To be clear, it was also because I worried (and worry) about the most oppressed folx, folx that these well-intentioned white people would further traumatize should their cognitive dissonance prevail.
This was the reason I discussed this incident at my university with the equity trainer — it was because I thought she would want to know if her equity presentation had resulted in additional emotional labour demands of other marginalized BIPOC folx still on probation, not just me.
For my efforts, the magical power of The Well-meaning White Woman was held against me. She assumed I had simply misunderstood what went on. The merits of this woman’s allyship were outlined to me.
And I listened to them, as I still held onto the rationale that this department was working in good faith with its marginalized BIPOC employees. I subjected myself to emotionally exhausting conversation after conversation. I sent psychoeducational email after psychoeducational email for a full year.
And by the end of the year, I had become the “Problem” Woman of Colour in the Workplace, as illustrated below:
I actually shared this illustration as an attachment in an email of about 1,500 words to another white director, when providing requested feedback in an attempt to avoid the outcome displayed on the chart for my damn self. I wrote so much because I thought it could yield good results, if I outlined why it was anti-Black for a white woman trainer to assign a reading with 24 n-words in the course of doing equity training, especially in a department with no Black folx in leadership.
That was the first time I gave feedback on how problematic mandatory staff equity training was, as it demands that the most oppressed of us barter our humanity — even while still on probation.
I sent that email to my executive director on December 20, 2018, long before taking a single sick day in that department.
I got a short email reply in response. It included appreciation for and acknowledgment of my emotional labour, along with an assurance that accountability would follow. Platitudes and zero specifics whatsoever on how accountability would be operationalized safely for BIPOC folx prevailed.
That time I had to file three union grievances in less than as many years of employment
Why do the white folx I work with think it is mandatory for the entire oppressive department to attend this training together?
Why have I been forced to attend at least five mandatory equity training sessions, just this year, including one on racial microaggressions? Why did me and other BIPOC folx have to be subjected to experiential learning in the form of dealing with real-time racial microaggressions created by a white woman who loved to derail the discussion?
Why do I have an absenteeism letter in my HR file about missing too many days of work when my chiropractic treatment was disrupted for three long months due to the pandemic restrictions?
Why were my vacation days denied just because I wanted to take vacation at the time of scheduled anti-racism training? Why do the white folx I work with think it is mandatory for the entire oppressive department to attend this training together?
The answer remains that Jordan Peterson’s old stomping grounds continue to value opportunities for learning for privileged willfully ignorant folx at the expense of the most oppressed of us.
Since those with the most power often lack lived experience of oppression, their policies and procedures are devoid of a perspective that could reduce harm to the most oppressed folx. So, harm is what continues to ensue. One result of these ineffective efforts is that the appearance of progress is maintained, without any actual strides. The most oppressed folx are forced to attend mandatory training sessions that (often wilfully ignorant) privileged folx require, while our humanity is violated.
Ideally, folx with the most decision-making power would come from a variety of backgrounds that include lived experience of marginalization rather than just hiring token folx to check off the necessary boxes for diversity and inclusion.
If I could go back in time, I would not trust white folx enough to share my feedback with them.
If organizations cannot manage that, then the least they could do is listen when oppressed folx barter our humanity and our livelihood to give them much-needed feedback about how their approaches need to change. If they want to reduce harm to us, their BIPOC staff, as well as the BIPOC students they should be serving appropriately in an equity office, they need to listen.
Instead, I currently have three outstanding grievances against this institution that denies my vacation time when I attempt to limit the emotional labour demands of hearing colleagues debate my humanity in training I do not need (and in fact, do freelance work for, providing psychoeducational training).
That time I shared this story despite the profound risk it brings
If I could go back in time, I would not trust white folx enough to share my feedback with them. It has jeopardized my employment. I should have just smiled and nodded when this white director had the audacity to share that he thought he could “just add diversity and stir” in his department.
This is how white supremacy and other forms of privilege continue to be weaponized against more marginalized staff, all the while, co-opting the language of social justice to gaslight us.
As much as I can try to strategize over earlier actions, the truth is that I have never been safe from xenophobic settler colonialist white supremacist harm, even when I was less aware of the problematic status quo.
In fact, it is a large part of why I write, as I wish someone who looked like me had warned me of how these highly bureaucratic organizations are more likely to wear down our very existence day by painstaking day, rather than feed me the fairytale that we can make change from the inside.
Thankfully, I mostly manage not to internalize the institution’s violations of my humanity as a negative reflection of me. I cannot help but worry about how some of those equally oppressed folx with increasingly colonized minds may be at greater risk of succumbing to this though.
It is why I will continue to speak truth to power, even as it threatens my hard-earned career. To do otherwise, would be complicity with maintaining the problematic status quo, and that will never align with my equity-oriented commitment to the anti-oppressive practice of social work.
Krystal Kavita Jagoo, MSW, RSW
Krystal Kavita Jagoo (she/her) is a social worker, artist, and educator who prioritizes equity in all of her work. Her visual art was featured in Pandemic: A Feminist Response, and the zine, CRIP COLLAB. She has taught “Justice and the Poor: Issues of Race, Class, and Gender” at Nipissing University, facilitates Sustainable Resistance for BIPOC Folx writing workshops and will teach the youth Writing for Social Change course at the Loft Literary Center. Her work has been published in Huffington Post, Healthline, Prism, Canadaland, etc. She can be found on LinkedIn.