The editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit announced he is stepping down after a photo of him in brownface resurfaced, prompting staffers to call out systemic racism at the publication and ask for his resignation.
"I am stepping down as editor in chief of Bon Appétit 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," Adam Rapoport said in an Instagram post Monday evening that has since been deleted.
The magazine has a loyal following among food lovers, and more recently, some of its staff members have become stars in test kitchen videos on YouTube.
"From an extremely ill-conceived Halloween costume 16 years ago to my blind spots as an editor, I've not championed an inclusive vision," Rapoport continued.
The announcement comes hours after Tammie Teclemariam, a freelance food and drinks writer, posted a screenshot of a 2013 Instagram post showing Rapoport and his wife dressed up as Puerto Ricans for Halloween.
"#TBT me and my papi @rapo4 #boricua," the post read.
Soon after the image started circulating on social media, Rapoport called an all-staff Zoom meeting to apologize, Sohla El-Waylly, an assistant food editor at Bon Appétit, told BuzzFeed News.
El-Waylly said she was disappointed with his apology and asked him to resign during the meeting.
"It just made me really angry because he just he doesn't understand what he did and the way that they continually treat the people of color on staff," El-Waylly said.
After the meeting, El-Waylly wrote about the racial discrimination she's experienced while working at Bon Appétit in a series of Instagram stories, saying that she has been "pushed in front of video as a display of diversity" and, unlike her white colleagues, has not been compensated for appearances in the magazine's popular videos on YouTube.
"I feel like they just like hide what's really happening behind the brown faces," El-Waylly told BuzzFeed News. "Behind the scenes, we're not being treated the same way. We don't have the same voice or pay."
Rapoport did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Condé Nast, which owns the food magazine, said it is "dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace." The company did not specifically address El-Waylly's claims.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination and harassment in any forms," the statement said. "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."
El-Waylly, 35, said when she applied for the assistant food editor position last summer, she didn't expect to make that much. During the application process, she asked for $65,000 a year. When HR said the company only had $50,000 for the position, she took it — even though she's been cooking for most of her life, this was only her second job in media and the description for the position said that she would just be cross-testing recipes.
But soon after she started working at Bon Appétit, El-Waylly said she was quickly asked to do a lot more work than she had signed up for, from tasting dishes to appearing in the test kitchen videos, apparently to help with the brand's diversity problem.
"They were asking me to stand in the background of photo shoots and video shoots, which made me super uncomfortable," El-Waylly said. "I was brought on to do this one job, and I’ve kind of taken on the role of a senior editor, contributing to all of the verticals in print and video."
Last August, she was sent on assignment to Philadelphia, for a feature with three Black chefs, but because the publication "doesn't have a great history of working with Black chefs," the chefs asked to work with all Black staff, El-Waylly said.
"There was no one on the food team that was Black, so they sent me instead because I'm the darkest one," she said, adding that neither she nor the chefs were given a heads up about the situation. "I arrived and I wasn't Black, and it was very strange for everyone involved."
Over the past 10 months, El-Waylly has repeatedly appeared in videos on Bon Appétit's YouTube channel, working on her own recipe videos as well as pilots for series. Throughout, she said she has asked to be compensated for the videos, which staffers are paid for separately through contracts with Condé Nast Entertainment, but it wasn't until after her social media posts on Monday that she was offered a contract.
"Their reasoning for it was always that the people who have contracts are the people who have series, like shows, but all those people who have shows are white and [Condé Nast Entertainment are] the ones who decide who has a show," she said, adding that some of her other colleagues who are people of color also do not have contracts despite appearing in the YouTube videos.
El-Waylly said Rapoport raised her salary to $60,000 a year this May after she complained that her pay didn't reflect the work she was doing, adding that she has been angry about how she's been treated for months.
"I was just too angry to not say anything," El-Waylly said when asked why she decided to speak out now. "I was thinking about posting a message like this before ... but [the photo] just made me feel like, why not? I don't owe these people anything. They haven't treated me well, so fuck it."
In response to the brownface photo of Rapoport and El-Waylly's posts, other Bon Appétit staffers said on Monday they won't appear in any of the publication's videos until people of color get equal pay and compensation for video appearances.
"I will fight to foster equality, and justice in our workplace and recognize that as a white person I have personally benefitted from our flawed system," senior food editor Molly Baz said in an Instagram story.
Fans also flocked to support El-Waylly and echoed calls for Rapoport to resign.
El-Waylly said she was surprised by the support from her colleagues as well as the love from fans of the brand, saying that, "Bon Appétit has made me feel like no one cares about me there."
"I really didn't think the public cared about me, so I feel really supported," she said.
Moving forward, she hopes Condé Nast fills the editor-in-chief position with a person of color. El-Waylly said she and her colleagues also plan to share information about their contracts and salaries to make sure everyone is treated fairly.
"We can’t let Condé Nast off the hook, and the whole team is going to keep putting pressure on them," she said.