Bon Appetit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport has resigned his position after several Bon Appetit staff members and freelance contributors publicly called for his resignation on Monday, alleging that a racist culture permeated throughout the brand.
Among the allegations from current staffers came from editor Sohla El-Waylly, who posted in her Instagram stories that she has been used in front of the camera “as a display of diversity,” but, unlike white employees, has never been compensated for on-camera appearances. In a statement to Variety, Conde Nast denied that people of color appeared in videos unpaid, but several other BA staffers replied in solidarity, some noting they would refuse to appear in any future videos until BIPOC staffers received equal pay and compensation for video work.
The callouts came after food and drinks writer Tammie Teclemariam unearthed a 2013 Instagram photo, originally posted by Rapoport’s wife Simone Shubuck, that shows the couple seemingly in brownface. The image, which has since been taken down from Shubuck’s Instagram account (but was up as of this morning) featured the caption “me and my papi” and the hashtag “boricua.” In a report by Business Insider, Rapoport denied that his costume was brownface, saying “On the record: I was not wearing makeup or face coloring of any sort in that photograph.”
In a post on his personal Instagram account, Rapoport announced his departure:
“I am stepping down as editor in chief of Bon Appetit to reflect on the work I need to do as a human being and to allow Bon Appetit to get to a better place. From an extremely ill-conceived Halloween costume 16 years ago to my blind spots as an editor, I’ve not championed an inclusive vision. And ultimately, it’s been at the expense of Bon Appetit and its staff, as well as our readers. They all deserve better. The staff has been working so hard to evolve the brand in a positive, more diverse direction. I will do all I can to support that work, but I am not the one to lead that work. I am deeply sorry for my failings and to the position in which I put the editors of BA. Thank you.”
When the photo surfaced on social media this morning, BA’s own staffers and contributors were quick to speak out publicly. “As a BA contributor, I can’t stay silent on this,” tweeted star food writer Priya Krishna. This is fucked up plain and simple. It erases the work the BIPOC on staff have long been doing, behind the scenes. I plan to do everything in my power to hold the EIC, and systems that hold up actions like this, accountable.”
BA’s research director Joseph Hernandez tweeted, “I’m likely courting internal reprimand, but I’m appalled and insulted by the EIC’s choice to embrace brownface in the photo making the rounds. I’ve spent my career celebrating Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and POC voices in food, and this feels like an erasure of that work.”
He added, “It also feels like an erasure of the hard work done by those on staff who are doing the behind-the-scenes, silent labor of educating and advocating for progressive change.”
It also feels like an erasure of the hard work done by those on staff who are doing the behind-the-scenes, silent labor of educating and advocating for progressive change.— Joseph Hernandez (@joeybear85) June 8, 2020
BA’s Jesse Sparks also stressed the immense pressure put on people of color in the newsroom.
I just— I'm furious and exhausted. My whole point for being at this brand has been to uplift and celebrate the work of BIPOC and Queer folx. I've put up with a lot of shit because it was more important to me that I could help other people get the recognition they deserved. https://t.co/GswjEZJLDW— Jesse Sparks (@JesseASparks) June 8, 2020
In a Twitter thread, former BA photographer Alex Lau explained that one of the many reasons he left the publication was the ways “white leadership refused to make changes that my BIPOC coworkers and I constantly pushed for.”
yes, I left BA for multiple reasons, but one of the main reasons was that white leadership refused to make changes that my BIPOC coworkers and I constantly pushed for.— Alex Lau (@iamnotalexlau) June 8, 2020
The backlash against BA’s company culture and Rapoport’s role as editor-in-chief mounted rapidly.
Along with many colleagues, I’ve been dissatisfied with the milquetoast statements floating around. After speaking with a few peers, I wrote a resignation letter primer. Bc folks need help. https://t.co/tUr0h62pYi— o s a y i (@osayiendolyn) June 8, 2020
The resurfacing of Rapaport’s photo and discussion of race within the publication comes following an alleged direct message exchange between Rapaport and writer Illyanna Maisonet, which Maisonet shared publicly on Twitter.
Some of you have asked about what happened with @bonappetit Nice of you to ask. I got a nice letter from #AdamRapoport this morning. Here is the series of IG DMs we shared moments ago. A montage... pic.twitter.com/ueRP5i91vx— illyanna Maisonet (@eatgordaeat) June 6, 2020
BA has previously come under fire for the overwhelming whiteness of its popular test kitchen, and the callouts have been buoyed by Rapoport’s latest newsletter, headlined “Food Has Always Been Political.” In it, he writes, “In recent years, we at BA have been reckoning with our blind spots when it comes to race. We still have work to do... So, as an editor, the question I’m now asking our team is how do we locate the intersection of food and politics in this current moment? And how can we report on this convergence in a way that is engaging and useful to our millions of readers?”
Part of the answer, as many food writers and BA staffers past and present are now sharing on social media, are that it should not take the ongoing murder of black people by the state for newsrooms to finally look inward and make changes that are well past due. That it shouldn’t take employees risking their jobs by speaking publicly — that there is no more room for white bosses and editors to place the responsibility of fixing structural racism in the industry on BIPOC. And that racism and inequity is not fixed by tepid letters from the editor or by publicizing diversity initiatives while failing to take steps internally so that black and brown people feel safe and supported.
Eater has reached out to Adam Rapoport and Condé Nast for comment on both the photo and the ongoing accusations of racism within the publication. We will update if and when they respond.
UPDATE, June 8, 4:50 p.m. PST: This post was updated to reflect that Rapoport has resigned.
Update, June 10, 10:16 a.m. EST: This post was updated to include Rapoport’s denial that he darkened his skin in the alleged brownface photo.
Disclaimer: Multiple people named in this story are past or current Eater staffers or contributors.