A situation has arisen with Bon Appetit that makes me want to talk about it, systemic racism, the protests, and virtue signaling. I know that’s a lot to cram into one post, but that’s how I roll.
A confession before I start the post. I don’t like Bon Appetit’s videos. When they became all the rage during lockdown, I watched a few of the eight chefs at home videos and could barely get through them, and that was with heavy fast-forwarding. I liked Priya Krishna, but most of the other chefs left me cold. I’m naming one specifically because even while I was watching him, I was thinking that only a white dude (and probably het/cis*) could get away with acting like that. It’s Brad Leone, and I cannot watch him. I don’t doubt he’s a good chef, but his whole persona is the epitome of loud clueless white dude, it’s extremely off-putting. But, putting him aside, there are a few other of the white cast who set me on edge as well.
Back to the topic at hand. Five or six days ago, it emerged that the (ex) EIC of Bon Appetit, Adam Rapoport and his wife had dressed up in brownface for Halloween 16 years ago. His wife reposted a pic to Instagram in 2013. They were dressed as stereotypical Puerto Rican in ‘da hood’, and it’s very cringe-worthy. That was just the tip of the iceberg, however. After the photo was released (along with the story by a freelance writer that her piece on Puerto Rican rice fritters was rejected because it didn’t reflect “what was happening ‘right now’ in the food world”, Sohla El-Waylly described a long list of injustices she had to face at work as one of the few PoC working there. Here’s a summary of the story thus far.
Long story short, Adam Rapoport resigned with a lot of mealy-mouthed words about having to be a better person. Other staffers came out with mea culpas or yelping about how they had to do better. Do I sound cynical? It’s because I am. I’ll get to that in a minute, but let me confess something else.
I’ve always viewed Bon Appetit as a snobby faux-elite website. I’m not saying it was a wholly rational, but they always rubbed me the wrong way. They seemed so self-important and self-congratulatory, and I never payed much attention to them even though I like watching making food videos. The brouhaha over their astoundingly tone-deaf article on pho only cemented my feeling. I had forgotten about that until this shit sprang up, but going down the rabbit hole reminded me of it once again.
Briefly, they put out an article entitled, PSA: This Is How You Should Be Eating Pho, and it blew up the internet. Why? For several reasons. First of all, the snarky PSA, like most of us haven’t ever eaten pho before and/or have been doing it wrong all our lives. Two, the story was about a white dude. There’s nothing wrong with a white dude selling pho, obviously, but to hold him up as the definitive way to eat pho was utter bullshit. In addition, calling it a trend and saying it was the new ramen…yeah they really shit the bed on this one.
Here’s the point, though. All of this is endemic, and it’s really hard to root out. Adam Rapoport resigning isn’t going to make things better in and of itself unless Conde Nast does the hard work, and I don’t think they’re going to do it. That’s why I’m rolling my eyes at all the white people at Bon Appetit coming out with the self-flagellation now. And in some ways, it ties into my feelings about all the statements made by companies at this moment about supporting BLM. Some are doing it despite having a track record of being VERY anti-BLM (NFL, looking at you, assholes), and it’s clearly virtue signalling on their part.
There are a few, I’m sure, who really are dedicated to making changes. I don’t know of any off the top of my head, however. But for the most, I feel they fall somewhere in the middle. Well-meaning, but not really committed to making long-term changes.
An aside: I have a complicated feeling towards all the statements myself. On the one hand, it’s good that companies are coming out unequivocally supporting BLM and in the case of YouTubers I watch, raising money to donate to related causes. That’s great. Money is tangible. It’s cool to bring on black streamers and raise awareness. It’s just….and I’m saying this about companies in general while looping it back to Bon Appetit, what happens in a month or two once the protests fade away (if they do)? On the other hand, there is a YouTube channel I watch that hasn’t made any statement at all, and it makes me think less of them. I mean, if you can’t even do that very basic thing. Then again, perhaps they are addressing it internally, but that’s hard to tell.
But should it be performative? I don’t know. As I said, I think less of the YouTube channel that didn’t even mention it whether it’s fair or not. Then again, I roll my eyes when I read all the company statements because they’re easy to do. And, while I really appreciate the charity donation streams, I can’t help but ask, are you still going to be lily-white (mostly) in the future?
Bringing it back to Bon Appetit, yes, Rapoport resigned. So what? Is that going to actually change what happens on a day-to-day basis? In some ways, it can give a company cover by saying the problem is over because we got rid of the one racist dude! But in most case, it’s not one person. If anything, that one person is an indication of a sick system, as evidenced by other people of color coming out with stories of discrimination at Bon Appetit.
Yes, one person up high can have a great effect on how the culture is at a company, obviously. However. For all the noise Conde Nast is making about changes and diversity, I will believe it when I see it. Which is how I feel about most of the companies making noise right now. Racism is baked into our society, and it’s not going to be easy to change. More to the point, it’s not just about the very overt shit, but the more intangible things such as people choosing others like themselves without realizing it.
It’s easy to look at numbers and say, “Well, we don’t have any PoC in our company, what can we do to fix that?” It’s much harder to actually make them feel welcome after they join, but that’s where the focus needs to be. It’s not enough to be there (as shown by the Bon Appetit debacle) if you’re going to be treated like second-class citizens when you’re there. I don’t know what the answer is, but I will say that at least talking about the issues is a good start–as long as it’s not the end.