The Rise of ‘Dear White Staffers’

Feb 8, 2022
9:58 AM

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress has long been a protective bubble for bad bosses who abuse, harass, assault, neglect, underpay, overwork, or are just generally terrible to their staff.

Dear White Staffers looks to change that. The renegade Instagram account now boasts over 75,000 followers, nearly three times the following they had a week ago.

For bedraggled Congressional staffers, it’s become the most empowering inbox on Capitol Hill. For bad bosses in Congress, Dear White Staffers is their worst nightmare.

Latino Rebels spoke with 27 Capitol workers about the Dear White Staffers account: 17 junior staffers, eight senior staffers, and two support workers. All aides and support workers spoke to Latino Rebels on the condition of anonymity—”anon please” has become a polite request accompanying information about the Dear White Staffers account.

“I need this job,” a Hill staffer of color told Latino Rebels, “but my [chief of staff] is a toxic, white, male sociopath who has really hurt a lot of people. I started spilling the tea to Dear White Staffers because there’s really nowhere else I could turn to.”

Hill aides, especially in the junior ranks, have virtually no recourse for pushing back against their superiors. There is no official human resources department in Congress, and the Office of Compliance has historically been a nightmare for staffers who come forward with sexual misconduct complaints.

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) is not much better, according to what staffers told Latino Rebels.

“It’s a long process,” said a junior staffer who went to the OCWR to complain about pay discrepancies on the committee where they work. “After a couple of weeks, they basically told me that if we proceeded with this complaint, nothing was going to happen and I’d be exposing myself to retribution from my bosses.”

Enter Dear White Staffers.

“I started following Dear White Staffers when it was just a meme account,” the committee aide continued. “The account got super popular right before the holidays when they started posting updates on COVID testing at the Capitol. A lot of people didn’t know there was a COVID outbreak in the building. They were posting really useful information about the wait times for testing.”

Late last year, the vibe of the Dear White Staffer account went from meme account humorous postings —calling out the overwhelming whiteness of the Capitol workforce— to staffer empowerment.

Mixed into the updates on COVID testing lines was something altogether new in the Capitol narrative: public posts in the Instagram stories that named bosses. In some cases, senior staffers were outed by rank and office; in others, by name. That’s when the Dear White Staffer revolution began in earnest.

“My boss was furious,” said a junior staffer who posted to Dear White Staffers about abusive behavior by a House member toward their Hill aides. “Our [chief of staff] called a meeting of the entire staff for first thing on Monday. I was so nervous, but figured that since it was an all-staff and not just me being called to the meeting they must not know it was me who posted [to Dear White Staffers].”

The chief of staff said that the person who posted the “private, confidential interactions” between staff had until the end of the day to ‘do the right thing” and come forward, according to the Hill aide’s account of the meeting.

[The congressperson] “was on Zoom the whole time but they were muted and not sharing video,” the aide recalled. “They didn’t say a word throughout the whole call until the end when they said something like, ‘This situation needs to be resolved by the end of the day.’ It was an intimidation tactic that didn’t work because after the meeting some of the staff were texting in our group chat about whether we should tell Dear White Staffers about what had just happened.”

Another junior aide told Latino Rebels about a shakedown in their office by the member of Congress they work for and had posted about in Dear White Staffers in January

“He told us that leaks would not be tolerated,” said the aide of the all-hands meeting their lawmaker called to address the posts to Instagram. “Then our [deputy chief of staff] convinced [themselves] that it was one of my coworkers who had posted. They had a one-on-one meeting with [the coworker] who came back to [their] desk visibly flustered. [They] kept saying, ‘It wasn’t me.’ That really hurt because there was nothing I could do to save [them]. I still feel bad about that.”

Latino Rebels asked the aide if they ever considered fessing up to save their coworker.

“Sure,” replied the aide, “but I need this job.”

Last week, Latino Rebels sent out a call on Twitter asking Hill aides posting to Dear White Staffers for comment about their experiences. Dear White Staffers reposted the request to their Instagram feed. By the end of the day, over a dozen staffers had come forward about posting to Dear White Staffers . “Anon please” continued to be the order of the day.

Communications staffers in Congress struggling to rein in the blowback from the account reached out to Latino Rebels after the repost by Dear White Staffers. “I’m surprised leadership hasn’t called Instagram to have them take it down,” said a House press aide on Thursday.

Dear White Staffers did not reply to questions from Latino Rebels over the weekend about any takedown threats to their account by Meta, Instagram’s parent company, but as if anticipating this eventuality, a backup Instagram account (“dearwhitestaffers2“) has been created and added to the main Dear White Staffers profile. The backup account has yet to post anything publicly but has already attracted an Instagram following in the thousands.

Congress isn’t the only Washington institution that’s struggled in its approach to Dear White Staffers. Washington newsrooms struggled to cover the Dear White Staffers phenomenon. Colleagues from three outlets tell Latino Rebels that they had pitched stories about the account only to have their ideas discredited by editors who didn’t see the news value.

“We’ve been trying to get [name withheld] to bite for weeks,” said a frustrated Hill reporter on Thursday morning. “I don’t know what has to happen for them to see that this account is unique and highly credible as a news source.”

On Thursday afternoon, the editorial impasse was broken regarding Dear White Staffers coverage when Latino Rebels asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about the account at her weekly press conference.

“That’s when I told my editor, ‘We have to cover this,'” said the Hill reporter. “[They] finally agreed.”

“We’re really behind the curve on this,” said a colleague at another outlet. “Now we’re playing catch-up.”

Within hours of Thursday’s press conference, a Pelosi spokesperson told Latino Rebels that the House Speaker supports staffers’ efforts to unionize in Congress‚a key demand within the Dear White Staffers editorial universe of memes, posts, stories, and fanfare.

“Like all Americans, our tireless Congressional staff have the right to organize their workplace and join together in a union,” said Drew Hammill, a senior aide to the House Speaker, in an email to Latino Rebels. “If and when staffers choose to exercise that right, they would have Speaker Pelosi’s full support.”

With that, the floodgates for unionizing in Congress —a pipe dream for generations of Hill aides— have finally opened.

On Friday, Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) announced that he will introduce a resolution this week to give Hill staffers “the right to form bargaining units.”

“Now is the time to demonstrate our commitment to workers, including our own,” tweeted Levin.

Dozens of Democratic members of Congress in both chambers have echoed Pelosi and Levin in support of staffers looking to unionize.

“Leader Schumer believes that hard-working Senate staff have the right to organize their workplace and if they chose to do so, he would support that effort,” a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) told Latino Rebels on Friday.

For some Hill offices, support for the staffer unionization efforts by Dear White Staffers had led to a sudden, quiet resignation about the existence of the account.

“I know myself and a few staffers who have submitted stories and it’s been alluded to by senior staff in the office like they’re trying to figure out our level of engagement with the account,” a Hill aide said. “It’s been shifting from a dog-eat-dog environment to silent support.”

Support for unionizing Congressional staffers is a far cry from actually addressing the toxicity of a workforce long infamous for being overwhelmingly white, unresponsive to legitimate criticism, vindictive against whistleblowers, and flagrantly abused by lawmakers and upper management.

“The truth is that working at the Hill as a minority woman is very difficult,” a Latina House staffer said. “Sometimes I get tired of having to defend my knowledge, while white men with half the training and experience that I have get away with the bare minimum.”


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports