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Bon Appétit Editor-in-Chief Resigns Over Brownface Photo, Criticism From POC Staff

Current and former staffers called for editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport to resign. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan /Getty Images

As Refinery 29’s editor-in-chief, Christene Barberich, resigned after staff members spoke out about racism they faced at the company, a similar reckoning is happening at Bon Appétit. Screenshots of messages from editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport shooting down a pitch from a Puerto Rican food columnist, Illyanna Maisonet, under the argument of seeking more “accessible” content circulated online, as did a newly surfaced photo — discovered by writer and wine professional Tammie Teclemariam — of Rapoport in brownface from 2004 which had been posted in 2013. The posts motivated current and former staffers, including the Test Kitchen’s Priya Krishna and Sohla El-Waylly, to speak out about their experiences at BA. Many, El-Waylly among them, called for his resignation. On Monday evening, Rapoport announced he would be stepping down from his role as editor-in-chief “to reflect on the work that I need to do as a human being and to allow Bon Appétit to get to a better place.”

Last week, Maisonet, a food writer who formerly wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle, posted on Twitter and Instagram about a months-old pitch to BA about “Afro-Boricuas that make regional rice fritters.” The pitch was rejected by features editor Meryl Rothstein, who Maisonet says told her it sounded “like a story that could have been written five years ago.” This post came just days after BA posted a black square reading “food has always been political” detailing the ways it would stand in solidarity with George Floyd by highlighting black-owned restaurants and food businesses.

Rapoport followed up via Instagram DMs two days after the tweet. Maisonet then also shared screenshots of their conversation on both Instagram and Twitter. In them, Rapoport told Maisonet that she should try to pitch digital, instead of print, claiming the magazine’s restaurant coverage was already planned through November. (And December was, he wrote, always dedicated to holiday coverage.) “We don’t have enough [Puerto Rican] food on site, but plenty of other LatinX cuisines,” he wrote. When Maisonet pointed out that the magazine covered Piñones, a Puerto Rican street food hot spot in its May issue this year, Rapoport told her it was because it fit the issue’s “unofficial theme of accessible, affordable escapes.” “Accessible,” Maisonet wrote in her last message. “As I leave this discussion you should really focus on that word. Because even after all this that’s always what you’re going to focus on. What’s accessible = what’s comfortable.” (The messages are saved in Maisonet’s Instagram Story highlights, if you want to read them in full.)

On Monday, Tammie Teclemariam tweeted the photo of Rapoport in brownface. It was posted by his wife, artist Simone Shubuck, who is likewise in brownface. In the picture, which was taken in 2004, Rapoport wears a silver chain and a do-rag. “#TBT me and my papi @rapo4 #boricua,” Shubuck wrote in the caption. (Her account is now private and it appears the photo has been deleted.) Jane Larkworthy, a beauty editor at the Cut, commented on the post at the time, saying she was “afraid of you,” referring to the couple. Larkworthy posted an apology Monday afternoon and was suspended by the Cut on Tuesday evening.

In response, a number of current and former employees posted online calling out Rapoport’s behavior and demanding his resignation. “I am angry and disgusted by the photo of Rapoport in brown face,” Test Kitchen assistant editor Sohla El-Waylly wrote on Monday in an Instagram Story. She called for him to resign, saying he was a symptom of “systemic racism that runs rampant within Conde Nast as a whole.” She also advocated for fair titles and pay for BIPOC employees and went on to write she was hired for $50,000 a year as an assistant editor “to assist mostly white editors with significantly less experience than me.” “I’ve been pushed in front of video as a display of diversity,” she added. “Only the white editors are currently paid for their video appearances.” (A Condé Nast spokesperson told Variety “it was untrue that Bon Appetit’s white editors are paid for appearing in videos while people of color are not.”) On Twitter, Bon Appétit contributor Priya Krishna shared the photo of Rapoport calling it “fucked up, plain and simple.”

“As a global media company, Condé Nast is dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace. We have a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination and harassment in any forms,” a Condé Nast spokesperson said in a statement. “Consistent with that, we go to great lengths to ensure that employees are paid fairly, in accordance with their roles and experience, across the entire company. We take the well-being of our employees seriously and prioritize a people-first approach to our culture.”

Other BA staff, including, editorial assistant Jesse Sparks, associate editor Christina Chaey — she hasn’t tweeted since 2016 but returned to weigh in on Monday — and the magazine’s research director, Joseph Hernandez, all called out Rapoport on Twitter. Former staffer Alex Lau also posted a lengthy thread on Twitter. “I just got so tired. so tired of shooting the same reformation/healthyish white girl bullshit lifestyle that i knew nothing about, while rarely getting the opportunity to feature restaurants/communities that actually deserved the spotlight,” he wrote. “What was demoralizing was when i’d be pushing so hard to change the publication from within, taking the wins that i could, only to see twitter and IG pop off about how white and nonprogressive BA was.”

Senior food editor Molly Baz posted an Instagram story pledging to “fight to foster equality and justice in our workplace.” (She wrote she “stands with” her BA “family” but did not explicitly call for Rapoport’s resignation.) Baz said she would not appear in videos until her BIPOC colleagues “receive equal pay and are fairly compensated for their appearances.” She tagged fellow staffers Chris Morocco, Andy Baraghani, Carla Lalli Music, Brad Leone, and Claire Saffitz asking them to join her. Morocco posted that he condemns Rapoport’s actions and will not appear in videos; Baraghani wrote he has “no desire” to appear in YouTube videos until El-Waylly and other BIPOC staff are compensated fairly; Leone and Saffitz also both posted solidarity statements. (None of the statements from these six included a specific call for Rapoport to resign.) Carla Lalli Music posted a similar statement saying she would not contribute videos and shared El-Waylly’s call for Rapoport to leave his role.

Prior to his resignation, Rapoport had not posted anything on Instagram since sharing a black square last Tuesday.

Update June 9, 6:15 p.m.: Since publishing this story, new reports of homophobia and racism from BA’s drinks editor Alex Delany and Matt Duckor, a vice president of programming for Condé Nast who helms BA’s video coverage, have been shared. Screenshots of racist and homophobic tweets from Duckor circulated on Twitter, as did a picture of a Confederate flag cake Delany baked and posted on his Tumblr years ago. (The cake was first tweeted about by Tammie Teclemariam, the same writer who tweeted the photo of Rapoport in brown face.) Teclemariam also surfaced a Vine video of Delaney using the word “faggot,” which he has since deleted.

Duckor apologized on Twitter on Tuesday evening, calling his tweets “utterly embarrassing and offensive.” He noted the tweets were over ten years old, saying he had “no excuse.” “I am taking the necessary steps to make change and I’m sorry to those I’ve let down,” he wrote. Conde Nast is currently, “discussing the matter,” the New York Times reports. Delany apologized via Instagram story for the Confederate flag cake calling it “a despicable symbol that a 17-year-old should understand.” (Delany, 27, says the Tumblr is from when he was a teen.) He has not addressed the video.

Bon Appétit has installed Amanda Shapiro, the editor of BA’s Healthyish, as interim editor-in-chief.

Update June 10, 12:35 p.m.: Bon Appétit issued a statement on Instagram on Wednesday. “At times we have treated non-white stories as ‘not newsworthy’ or ‘trendy.’ Other times we have appropriated, co-opted, and Columbused them. While we’ve hired more people of color, we have continued to tokenize many BIPOC staffers and contributors in our videos and on our pages,” reads one section. “Many new BIPOC hires have been in entry-level positions with little power, and we will be looking to accelerate their career advancement and pay. Black staffers have been saddled with contributing racial education to our staffs and appearing in editorial and promotional photo shoots to make our brands seem more diverse. We haven’t properly learned from or taken ownership of our mistakes.” You can read it in full on Instagram.

Update June 10, 10:48 p.m.: Matt Duckor, the Condé Nast vice president in charge of BA’s video, has left the company, Business Insider reports. Condé Nast Entertainment president Oren Katzeff notified staff via email on Wednesday. Duckor locked down both his Instagram and Twitter accounts this week, after his racist and homophobic tweets were circulated online. Duckor has been accused by a number of BA staffers, past and present, of suppressing diversity at the company.

Update June 12, 10:35 a.m.: Claire Saffitz, star of BA’s popular “Gourmet Makes” series, posted a statement on Thursday, following Duckor and Rapoport’s departures. “My whiteness (but also my class position, educational background, etc) helped me enter and succeed in a toxic system without having to acknowledge or challenge the system itself,” Saffitz wrote.

A number of other BA staffers have also posted statements. Christina Chaey posted she, like El-Waylly, was never paid for video appearances, but that she is unpacking “my complicity in a system that made me believe I should feel lucky that I got a seat at their table.”

Update June 25, 3:15 p.m.: Video editor Matt Hunziker has been suspended. Hunziker, the editor of the video “It’s Alive With Brad,” who is better known in the BA world as “Hunzi,” is currently under investigation, according to Business Insider. Condé Nast Entertainment president Oren Katzeff announced the suspension to staff at a company meeting on June 25. “There have been many concerns raised about Matt that the company is obligated to investigate and he has been suspended until we reach a resolution,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement. Multiple sources at Condé Nast Entertainment told BI they believed Hunziker had been suspended for speaking out against the company on social media.

Bon Appétit Editor-in-Chief Resigns Over Brownface Photo