The Illusion of Diversity

By: Dani Lane  |  August 30, 2020

By Dani Lane, Opinion Editor

The first half of 2020 is going to be remembered for many watershed moments, from the deadly coronavirus ravaging through almost every country on the planet to the reminder that a country as progressive and modern as the United States of America continues to grapple with and struggle with deep rooted racism. It seems that no facet of daily life has not been touched by this new wave racial reckoning, from our schools and the communities we live in, to stores and businesses we frequent, every inch of American life is under a new and necessary scrutiny.  Social media is flooded with eye-catching oh my graphics explaining concepts such as “red lining” and structural racism. The media is full of daily coverage of racial protests happening in almost every state. Political pundits can be found everywhere discussing defunding the police and the causes of systemic racism. It has been almost 200 years since slavery ended in the United States but the harmful reminents of the racism that allowed slavery has yet to leave our country.

Thankfully now, in 2020, after the public and brutal killing of George Floyd, the American people seem to finally be ready to face the music and confront the ugly side of our country.

In recent months, it has seemed like a daily occurrence that organizations I follow on social media are posting about racism — whether it be statistics of how many Black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) they employ, how they plan on being more racially conscious going forward, or, in unfortunate cases, exposing racism in the organization. One such case involved the culinary magazine and Youtube channel “Bon Appetit”, owned by the media company Conde Nast. Conde Nast is no stranger to racial controversy. One of their largest publications, “Vogue Magazine”, is routinely criticised for the lack of diversity in its pages and the lack of attention given to “non-white” fashion. While Conde Nast is frequently criticized for turning a blind eye to racist culture and practices in their company, in recent years it appeared that its individual publications have been making more of an effort to be more inclusive and representative of their reader base. This illusion was shattered on June 8 when the floodgates of racial mistreatment were opened on to “Bon Appetit”.

On June 8, 2020, images of “Bon Appetit”s Editor-in-Chief, Adam Rapoport, wearing blackface as part of a 2008 costume were released, prompting others from the company to come forward with their own stories of the toxic racial environment that was allowed to take place inside “Bon Appetit” at the hands of Rapoport. This story is not unique. This same chain of events has occurred in countless companies and organizations throughout the racial reawakening of 2020, but what stuck out to me when I first started hearing about all of the racism that had been growing and festering behind the scenes at one of my favorite magazine and Youtube channel was how well it was hidden. Oftentimes racism is hiding in plain sight and once you open your eyes it becomes clear as day. It looks like all white executive staff, it looks like a lack of representation, it looks like a glossing over racial biases and cultural disrespect.  

But not at “Bon Appetit”. The “Bon Appetit” test kitchen and magazine are filled with BIPOC working and creating alongside their white counterparts. The videos from the test kitchen are filled with clips of Indian chefs recreating the recipes from their childhood, Asian and Black producers chit-chatting about the snacks they grew up on, and Hispanic kitchen managers effortlessly making empanadas while her students struggle to master the complex folding technique. One of the things that always struck me about the BA test kitchen was how diverse and well integrated it was. Individuals from all walks of life congregated in the state of the art kitchen to cook and explore the culinary arts. It seemed like a harmonious place that had overcome years of systemic racism to create a multicultural, muliracial melting pot.

In the weeks following Rapoport’s scandal and resignation from the company, stories and accounts started to emerge about the mistreatment and unequal opportunities occurring behind the scenes. One of the highest grossing platforms in the Conde Nast universe is the BA Youtube channel, with its over 9 million subscribers it is full of cooking videos for all interests and all levels of chefs. From the popular “Gourmet Makes” series to “It’s Alive”, the BA Youtube channel provides content for all types of foodie. Behind the fun and energetic videos was a darker, more troubling culture brewing. It was revealed that all white creators were being generously paid to create videos for the platform whereas all BIPOC chefs on the Youtube channel were not offered any compensation for their work in front of the camera. It was also revealed that BIPOC staff members were often silenced and told that there was no room or audience for cultural diversity in the magazine.  

For the past two months there has been a continuous stream of testimonials, accusations, and revelations from the “Bon Appetit” staff. The events that occurred behind the scenes at “Bon Appetit” are not unique or truly that surprising. We are living in a time when BIPOC are systemically and routinely put down and brushed aside in order to make room for white people, they receive unequal compensation for equal work, and are told that their ideas are not up to the standards our white world expects.  

What struck me the hardest in all of the turmoil at “Bon Appetit” was not that these injustices occurred, but rather the illusion of diversity and equality that was shattered. In the past few months a certain numbness has taken over and we have started to accept that no institution or person is what they seem. Realizing and understanding that just because something looks inclusive and evolved does not mean that that is the truth. The ideas and practices are so deeply rooted in our society and culture that it is easy to gloss over them. It is easy to not to notice what is really happening. As a result of the racism at “Bon Appetit”, the BIPOC staff members did not feel like they could step forward and voice their grievances. They were told that their voices did not matter and that they should just feel fortunate to have the position they had. This is not uncommon, even in the most progressive institutions.

We can do better and we must do better. If the past few months have taught me anything it’s that nothing is what it seems, that we hold accountable those in power so that they know that they cannot get away with maintaining the status quo, that it is imperative upon us that we question everything we take for granted. We must require that those in power, whether it be at an organization as large as Conde Nast or as small as a local business, act with the utmost respect and attention to ALL those in the community. Had those troubling images of Mr. Rapoport never been revealed, the dark underbelly of “Bon Appetit” may never have been exposed. We should not and cannot wait until circumstances demand action as they did at “Bon Appetit”, rather we should take action now looking in at ourselves and at the institutions around us to ensure the highest quality standards and cultures.