Memoir, Must Reads, Politics, Recommended

Confessions of an Equity-Industry Propagandist

My artistic skills are nil, but my lettering is solid. So when I doodled a cartoon hand around an erect cartoon penis, it was the word inside the dick I was most proud of: DIVERSITY.

As team members ran through their collective to-do list—tear down the patriarchy, tear down capitalism, tear down oppression—they shared their favorite Viennese hotels, yoga retreats and keto-friendly recipes (#OMG #SOGOOD). This was the nature of the quarterly meetings. I smiled through the video feed, nodding, adding little curlies to my diversity dick off-screen while jotting down a secret affirmation to myself:

Do NOT let them add you in WhatsApp.

I was their writer. The doodles were a cry for help. I’d hit the wall.

Having worked in advertising agencies for more than 20 years, it’s always been my job to write in a way that sells. Products, services, brands. But over the last decade, I’ve found myself in the pay of a series of wokepreneurs.

Thanks to word-of-mouth, I unwittingly specialized as the equity industry ballooned. I polished one social-justice enterprise—consultants who train organizations to “embrace the change”—until it shone. Then I was hired by another, and another, to the point where I was in demand.

“I had my doubts about hiring her,” said one client, explaining my presence as he introduced me to his group. “I mean, why would I want some white woman as our voice, even if nobody sees her?”

Because I’m one of the most experienced writers in the country doing this work…? I thought to myself. But I said nothing. I was doodling a dick.

As with old-timey mobsters promising protection to mom-and-pop corner stores, the presentations, websites and proposals I created for equity consultants wrapped a threat inside a promise:

  • Your organization perpetrates privilege. We can help you correct that.
  • Your organization perpetrates white supremacy. We can help you correct that.
  • Your organization perpetrates the further marginalization of marginalized peoples, and we can help you correct that.
  • Is anything in the list above making you uncomfortable? That’s you, protecting your perpetration. Take note of your resistance. Do you want to be a part of the story of a better world, or do you want to be left behind?

It’s a shakedown, and some of the biggest and most prestigious organizations in the world are signing up. The people who do this work are kind and intelligent people. So are the people who buy it. But that almost makes it worse. It’s all about the money, a circle jerk just as corrupt, disingenuous and ego-riddled as the capitalist and institutional behemoths getting hustled. Except no corporation or government—in the West, anyway—perches atop its hoard while also claiming absolute moral authority and demonizing anyone who questions it.

In college, we used to watch The Smurfs, and take a swig whenever we heard ‘smurf’ used as verb, noun or adjective. I’d have gotten drunk just as smurfin’ fast if I’d hauled on a bottle every time an equity consultant used the word ‘folks’ (spelled with an x for inclusivity) to enforce yet another radical over-correction and have it feel less threatening. Other popular favorites: “Do better” (as a critique of others’ insufficiently activist outlook), “Be in the circle” (an affectation of Indigenous rituals), “Shift the power,” “Stay in relationship to the work,” and the archvillain: “whiteness.”

In the past few years, the phenomenon has escalated dramatically. I began to pull further and further away from what had started to feel like a soft-edged cult complete with chants, conspiracies and near-complete homogeneity of speech. Every client echoed the last, parroting rightspeak.

Trying to sort out the increasing conflict within, I looked up the word profiteer and found everything I’d ever muttered to myself, reeling as I woke up from woke. Speculator; exploiter; charlatan. Were they the propagandists—the con artists, panderers, demagogues—or was I?

I made it slick. I made it plausible. It was my job to turn a regressive sow’s ear into a progressive silk purse.

I’ve had clients from around the globe. I have been the behind-the-scenes voice for everything from energy and telecoms to non-profits feeding the hungry. But when it came to writing for the wokepreneurs, I felt like an atheist hired to write sermons for a fundamentalist church. It’s one thing to write ad copy urging people to drink Pepsi instead of Coke. That’s benign. But I was being paid to mangle language, gaslight the public, and undo the fabric of things I believe in—free speech, open discourse, and the toxicity of narcissism as a cultural north star. That’s malignant.

That I somehow wound up specializing in the cash cow of social justice is a bewildering fluke. How did I wind up here, I wondered? How did they?

“We are not in the world we want yet,” one client told me, disapproving of a “problematic” turnout to an equity training event they had staged. We were in a majority-white, majority-rural state—to her, an inevitable harbor of systemic racism. Of the 200 people in the room, only four were black. Two others might have been Indigenous. One attendee spoke with an accent that seemed faintly Middle Eastern. There were a few Asians in the mix, but their presence didn’t add to this client’s particular narrative. They just never came up. I’d already clocked all the ones they’d want me to showcase, knowing what my marching orders would be.

“You know what I’m going to ask, right?” my client whispered. “Please make this room look diverse, or else we can’t use it.”

Most attendees, despite being overwhelmingly white, seemed energetic and eager to participate in the training. But that was not enough. I passed the instruction to the photographer to shadow the “desirable” people of color, only some of whom were smiling and engaged. The photographer lurked obediently in their periphery. The others were bored and expressionless, which makes sense: Like me, they were regular people doing their jobs. Someone had made them come to equity training. They did not exist to be diversity models. And there we were, salivating over their presumed oppression like some sort of delicacy.

Professional “change-makers” are so fixated on virtue signaling, the simple act of choosing an idea, interview, feature story, photo, or retweet is a minefield. For another client, I pitched that we highlight the work of a woman who does event facilitation on environmental issues. “Hmmm,” said the client, who happened to be white. “I dunno. She’s just… way too white.”

No one in our entire state could possibly be more correctly oriented than this environmentalist. She wears vegan shoes and stands in the cold for reparations. Venting, I described her to my partner (the recipient of all my eye-rolling GIFs) as: No way that woman doesn’t do a land acknowledgement before she burps. But her deeply earnest commitment to fighting injustice was undeserving of credit because she has long blonde hair.

It should be noted that this environmentalist also happens to be a sweet, congenial and wholly spirit-forward human who, to this day, is unaware that a nod of recognition for her lifelong efforts had been pre-emptively dissolved by the stomach acid of her own tribe.

For wokepreneurs, the more boxes ticked, the better—even when it’s fake. One client, a political candidate who’d recently moved to a rural area, bussed in a carload of hijab-wearing women from the closest city so the small town would look “less white,” and to lend urgency to her insistence that its citizens be “more race-aware.” The candidate was not successful in her bid to win the county’s seat, losing the election by a wide margin. Her campaign had profoundly misread and scolded the very people she had hoped to represent.

The movement—progressivism, equity, wokeness—protects itself from examination by pointing at anyone who does not uncritically accede to its doctrines as evidence of the problem it claims to be solving. As a former progressive, this makes me angry. I first hit peak-intersectionalism thanks to the revelations of my young lesbian niece, including gender ideology’s effect on her socialization and mental health. After years of witnessing the movement from the inside, I began seeking nuance, as I should have done from the start.

I haven’t been able to say any of this publicly, which is why I’ve written this piece under a pseudonym. If I spoke out about any of this, I’d jeopardize my career. So I am quietly and selectively withdrawing my talent. I am a conscientious objector.

Writing is deeply personal work, even when it’s for corporations. Most of my clients are genuinely innovative teams making great experiences and products. I shape and conceive the story, which comes to define their brand. It is my job to persuade. And I can no longer work for people who believe and teach that immutable characteristics make people either magically wise and deserving of regard, or irrevocably suspect and deserving of scorn. And that optics matter more than merit, character or good intentions.

It’s almost impossible for anyone to feel valued from inside the equity hustle, or to trust its means or its ends. White people—especially straight “cis” men—are required to perform contrition, self-censorship and self-deprecation. Everyone else is tokenized and graded according to their intersectional score first, and the value of their contribution second. It should make all of us step back, skeptical. But it doesn’t. Not when this much money is up for grabs.

I haven’t just quit the Left. I’ve quit the wokepreneurs. I love what I do too much to spend client meetings doodling contemptuous dicks. And so I won’t be cashing any more checks signed by the real-life likes of Titania McGrath.

Give me anything else to write about.

Flossing: It’s over-rated.
Cigarettes: They make you sexy, you know.
Fracking: Lighting the water from your kitchen faucet on fire is neat.

Anything but social justice.

 

Janet Mackay is the pen name of a business writer.

Comments

  1. “Everyone else is tokenized and graded according to their intersectional score first”

    Been thinking about intersectionalism: Is it real? Seems to me that it’s winner take all. Trannies trump wimin. Period. It doesn’t matter if the wimin is POC and disabled and has AIDS and is on welfare, her score doesn’t really increase, the trannie still wins. Black trumps white every time unless the white is a trannie because trannies trump everyone. Counter examples are welcome, but I don’t really see any sort of intersectional sums being computed. There is the Victim totempole, and your position on it is that of your highest Victim Identity, not the sum of your lesser Victimhoods. That’s what I observe anyway, counter argument welcome. Frankly, I think this is why we must eventually have Equitron – only Equitron can do the intersectional math that would be required.

  2. Pete Buttigieg’s lack of popularity among black voters comes down to the fact that blacks are more hostile to gay people than whites. A truth everyone understands but few will say out loud since it constitutes intersectionality blasphemy.

  3. Yes. The global AI that totally controls our lives not too far in the future. You see, we love Choice and we love Diversity, but if people are allowed to Choose, equity targets will not be met – we will not have enough black grandmasters for example. We’ll have too many Jewish Nobel laureates. Not enough Asian weightlifters and too many white swimmers. We try to repair these things with affirmative action and quotas – call this ‘suction’ – but in the future we will see that that’s not enough. For example, to get 15% of all chess grandmasters black would essentially mean awarding the title to blacks who don’t know how the pieces move. 50% of all math professorships to wimin would mean that some of them wouldn’t know how to factor a polynomial.

    No. The problem must be nipped in the bud. ‘Suction’ is not enough, we need ‘pressure’ too. Equitron will forbid most whites from learning chess, will assign wimin to the math faculty even if they’d rather go into nursing and assign men to nursing even if they’d rather study math. Disequities will not be permitted to develop in the first place, thus there will not be any need to cure them.

  4. “The huge majority just want to be left alone.”

    Ray, I question the accuracy of this assertion. If transgenders (hopefully an approved term) wish to be left alone, I think a huge majority of people would comply. That is not what is occurring. The public is being scolded and told it must allow natal males into female changing areas, to participate in female sports, to be accepting of life altering surgeries on children. Anyone, transgenders included, who dissents from this ideology is mobbed and ridiculed. If huge majorities of transgenders objected to these policies and practices, all they need do is speak up and complain that the others do not speak for the majority. This is not happening. Silence infers acquiescence.

    “Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is “Qui tacet consentiret”: the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”. If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.” Sir Thomas More

  5. Dear author, your predicament could be an exciting one. What if you turned this into a performative art project? What if you turned the dial up to 11, and played your role as much as you could? Fool them, by amplifying their foolishness. Then, when the inevitable happens and you have to come clean, your book about it would be eaten up, at least by one potential reader.

    True, there’s a risk. But sooner or later, this thing will collapse anyway, and it won’t be tidy. In the meantime you could be in on the joke, and make the structure unstable, and your conscience would be clear while you did it. And there are untapped veins of creativity in you that are screaming to get out, and not just as a dirty doodle, but as something amazing. You’re the only one who could do this. The world needs someone like you, in the position you’re in, with the powers you have. I hope you do it. I hope you do it.

  6. The moderates do not simply stay silent. The vote for the woke, defend the woke against any criticism, and attacks critics of the woke as “bigots”.

    We are surrounded by self-proclaimed non-wokes who criticize wokeness yet parrot every woke attack on the Right as loudly as anyone.

  7. The movement—progressivism, equity, wokeness—protects itself from examination by pointing at anyone who does not uncritically accede to its doctrines as evidence of the problem it claims to be solving.

    Doesn’t this go back to Salem? If you deny being a witch, it’s proof you are a witch.

    I absolutely loved this article, from its colorfully visual opening to its highly principled finish. I wish the author the best of luck in her future endeavors fighting the good fight.

  8. I loved your article. It was pithy and humorous, even if it dealt with a serious subject. I believe what we are witnessing is a mass extension of the corporate obsession with liability, only the expansion in this case relates specifically to reputation. The tragedy is that there are many ways in which major corporations could improve their track record, without substantially increasing their costs. A better understanding of the science and psychology of human productivity, for example, could lead to workers that are paid twice as much, for four times as much work.

    I recently sent a concept to a retailer with a historically good brand image. My idea was to unite the fair trade and green movements under one banner, aimed at sourcing better made and more durable clothing from manufacturing sites based in the Developing World, at prices that would allow people in poorer countries to access greater wealth through fair trade. I know why it failed. The great lie of the West, is that black and brown people are somehow oppressed by moving to cities and achieving better standards of living by selling their labour producing Western consumer goods. The Left sees a return to subsistence farming as inherently virtuous, even though young people are leaving the land in droves to escape a life of absolute poverty. Subsistence- the clue should be the word.

    Have you thought about becoming a comedy writer? I know that comedy is one of the hardest genres, but you seem to have at least some natural flair, and given the number of cancelled, but still successful, comedians lining up to endorse Andrew Yang, this genre might just be placed to reclaim it’s place as the champion of trend-setting and the avant-garde- this time leading with the wholesale rejection of wokeness. I imagine nobody will care if you’re white, if you are funny…

  9. Supporting the ticketing of the only black man on the road for driving 60 MPH in a 55 zone while scores of white people fly by at 70 MPH is not integrity. It is injustice.

    Trump is the black man. Technically guilty, but you’re nuts if you think it’s fair to penalize him for it, especially if you’re doing so at the behest of the far worse people.

  10. Working in government, we of course had to go to mandatory “ethnic awareness” classes; and of course they were filled with unmitigated social-justice crap. My advice to new employees before their first indoctrination class; just sit there, don’t argue, don’t question, just ignore the speaker and think about something else, football, lunch, whatever. Also, don’t believe the speaker when he says that “nothing you say will leave this room”. Yeah right, usually if someone disagrees the speaker is naming names to human resources the same day. Cowardice to remain silent? Maybe, but you can do more to overthrow the SJW’s working within the department than being unemployed out on the street.

  11. Fanatics need something to believe in.

    Ideology doesn’t make fanatics. Fanatics make ideology.

    The white radical leftists are mentally ill, and the non-white ones are genocidal fascists.

    This war requires a low bar of courage. Are you going to tell the diversity training officer to ‘fuck off’ and receive the biggest, probably most silent, round of applause in history. Or, are you going to be complicit in the creation of a fascist gulag?

  12. Reminds me of commentary I saw today calling Nancy Pelosi “brave” for ripping up her speech transcript.

    There couldn’t be a less brave act than to do what her adoring fans wanted her to do.

  13. I am laughing at my cultural disconnectedness. I though the article had something to do with equity securities (stocks). I’m glad not to have much time left in this world. Leftists have mucked it up possibly beyond repair.

  14. Spot on article. There’s this idea that the diversity industry is made up of kind-hearted do-gooders out to save the world. But having had some experience in this space, they’re so totally not. Not to name names but the reality is that they’re all a bunch of bloodsucking a$$holes out to make a buck (or a few million). It’s a straight forward corporate shake down. Corporation pays a$$hole large sum of money -> a$$hole issues press release claiming corporation values diversity -> a$$hole then spends money on coke and hookers. Meanwhile, corporation does nothing to actually improve situation around diversity.

  15. We can. But modern purity spirals do involve harassing people and publicly shaming them, as well as trying to get them fired from their workplace and denied employment anywhere else, which can and does lead to nervous breakdowns and suicides. The death toll is considerably lower, but it’s not zero.

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