Outgoing Milwaukee Health Commissioner Dr. Jeanette Kowalik said she experienced racism and threats from White supremacists on the job.
She penned an op-ed for The Daily Beast entitled, "The Racism I Faced as Milwaukee’s Health Boss Under COVID-19," in which she delves into the challenges she faced in weaponizing an underfunded health department against the pandemic, and the prejudices that went along with the job.
"The job was also a personally grating one," she wrote. "It was a constant power struggle from Day One. I was micro-aggressed, man- and 'Karen'-splained beyond belief, and subject to major passive-aggressive outbursts, and plenty of double standards."
Aside from the toxic culture at work, she also wrote that she received threats in the mail.
"Like some other health officials across the country, I received threats of harm mailed to my office prior to COVID-19 and of course after—among them many emails authored by far-right white supremacists," she wrote.
Kowalik expanded on the types of threats that she received during a county call Tuesday.
"I was receiving some anti-immigration, white supremacist types of threats and things before COVID," she said, according to local news outlet WISN. "So of course, with Milwaukee city and county declaring racism as a public health crisis, there's many people that rallied behind us for doing that, but there are still many people angry by that who feel they are under attack and their way of life is being threatened."
Milwaukee aldermen thanked Kowalik for her service last week after she announced her resignation, but did not reference the toxic culture she alleged.
"Looking back, Dr. Kowalik took the reins during a time of transition at the MHD," they wrote. "She was a leader in clearly and openly talking about the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Milwaukee’s African-American and Latino communities, and how COVID-19 magnified existing health disparities."
WISN reports that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett also thanked Kowalik last week for "her dedication and leadership, especially during this pandemic."