The Bon Appétit scandal says something very real about our society: that racism largely remains unquestioned unless someone speaks out.
‘I am 35 years old and have over 15 years of professional experience. I was hired as an assistant editor to assist mostly white editors with significantly less experience than me’.
This is a statement posted by Bon Appétit’s Assistant Food Editor Sohla El-Waylly to highlight the deeply integrated culture of systematic racism at Conde Nast Entertainment.
It all began when a photo of Adam Rapoport, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, surfaced the internet. He was seen wearing a ‘brownface’ and perpetuating negative racial stereotypes when he dressed up as a Puerto Rican for Halloween a few years ago.
Since then multiple employees, both past and current, have stepped forward to strip the company’s facade of being an inclusive environment for its staff.
Rapoport’s assistant and the only black woman on payroll, Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, described her experience at Bon Appétit in an interview with Business Insider, stating: ‘He treats me like the help’, when asked about her boss’s behaviour. Tweets by Matt Duckor, VP of Video at Conde Nast Entertainment, also show the sexist, racist and homophobic attitudes amongst some of the top officials at one of the world’s largest media houses. Most shocking though, are the repeated complaints from Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) editors who do not get paid for their contribution to the brand’s cash cow — their YouTube channel.
With the fallout continuing and as more BIPOC share their stories, the question must be asked: How do we move forward?
As it stands, on the 11 June 2020 both Rapoport and Duckor have stepped down. Furthermore, faces of the Bon Appétit brand (including Claire Saffitz who hosts the cult-famous show ‘Gourmet Makes’) have flagged their contribution and demanded more from management.
But, is this enough?
In light of these events the Bon Appétit and Epicurious brands have released a statement promising to do better. However, it seems more like an effort to patch-up a sinking ship. There is a lack of action points and the statement is full of empty promises that are common with anything going through the corporate mill. It has left employees hurt, outraged, and voiceless despite days of negotiations. Editor-at-Large, Amiel Stanek has rightly said of management: ‘I also demand that Conde Nast give us more than vagaries. When will the pay inequalities that BIPOC have suffered be rectified?’
So, what should they do?
Along with compensation for all its employees regardless of race — especially those being asked to be on video — the company must use their position to amplify diverse voices.
Media has always had a significant sway on public opinion and perception. Utilising the growing range of platforms to create awareness is one way of righting wrongs. Starting with the small things, such as not using the term ‘ethnic’ to describe ideas that aren’t white, is one way to begin re-educating readers. Another would be learning to respect others cultures instead of ‘sampling’ them and then whitewashing their identity to fit a particular world view. On a larger scale, what is needed is the continuous involvement of BIPOC groups, and not just when it is convenient. Otherwise, as Christina Chaey, Associate Editor of Bon Appétite put it: ‘this is inclusion without equity’.
Giving opportunity and compensation, but more importantly, listening and acknowledging BIPOC voices is the only way to move forward from this one-dimensional mentality so many companies have.
The world has a multitude of perspectives. It’s about time they were all shown neutrally.