Anthony Bourdain Was Remarkable Because He Possessed Qualities That Shouldn’t Be

Chef Anthony Bourdain (center) dines with guests at the (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016, in New York City.
Chef Anthony Bourdain (center) dines with guests at the (RED) Supper hosted by Mario Batali with Anthony Bourdain on June 2, 2016, in New York City.
Photo: Mike Coppola (Getty Images)

There is no shortage of affecting, poignant, gleaming and evocative tributes to Anthony Bourdain today, as those changed by his life and overwhelmed by his death are finding the words to articulate who he was (to them) and what he meant (to them). He was, from all reliable accounts, deserving of this level of veneration. Perhaps my most prominent memory of him stems from last year, when his Parts Unknown CNN show visited Pittsburgh, and there were some rumblings (including some from the mayor himself) that he didn’t show the city in the same glowing light in which the city wanted to see itself.


That he chose, when coming to the ’Burgh, to speak on our cavernous racial disparities instead of just our cool, new downtown eateries and bizarre pierogi races is what made him who he was. He was a rich and powerful (and white) man who used the privilege that his riches, his power, his whiteness and his maleness provided to shed a spotlight on those without it. He was a tourist of the world who still treated people and cultures like people and cultures and not pamphlets.

And, as Megan Greenwell articulated earlier today, he changed. He didn’t have to recognize his privilege. He didn’t have to be a champion of vulnerable people. He didn’t have to speak up. He could’ve continued being the man he was 20 years ago, and he’d be as rich and as famous and perhaps even as revered as he is today.

It shouldn’t be a big deal to be kind and to be curious and to have empathy and to recognize and appreciate context. It shouldn’t make a man—even a rich and famous white man—remarkable. But it is. And because it is, it did.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


KC Complains A Lot

What made Anthony Bourdain remarkable and why there are so many of people of color touched by his death is that he is the example of allyship that we all talk about. He traveled the world and everywhere he went, he treated people of color with a degree of respect we’re unaccustomed to by rich white men. He spoke in plain terms about our struggles and our triumphs. And he did so for no tangible benefit, other than...that’s just who he was. He didn’t desire thanks. He just had a deep appreciation of different people and cultures, and he asked for nothing in return for just being a good person.

Bourdain will be missed deeply for the humanity he showed us all. May he rest in peace.