Why Anthony Bourdain’s Life Is a Lesson for White Men of Privilege on How to Be an Ally - MRCAESAR.COM

Friday, 8 June 2018

Why Anthony Bourdain’s Life Is a Lesson for White Men of Privilege on How to Be an Ally


The culinary world shifted when news that rock-star chef and author Anthony Bourdain died of an apparent suicide was confirmed by CNN on Friday. Bourdain defied the boundaries of his job description, transcending barriers of disparate cultures and, perhaps among his greatest feats, challenged the status quo he could have so easily chosen to thrive in.
And aside from what he contributed to the world (taking us on adventures around the globe and giving us all a front-row seat to experience the gritty underbelly of New York City's restaurant industry through his cult-classic book Kitchen Confidential), that's why we loved him.
In recognizing his privilege, Bourdain was able to stand up for women, marginalized communities, and even question how his own past choiceslent themselves to perpetuating dangerous environments. It would have been effortless for Bourdain to adopt the worldview of men who share his status and influence. Bourdain, instead, explored worlds besieged by that power and challenged its beneficiaries to do better.
In short, Anthony Bourdain was an ally. Not in the vein of entertainers who only wear colorful ribbons at functions and retreat to their luxurious homesteads. He was one who fundamentally believed in, and fought for, people at the margins even when hashtags weren’t trending. Though he could have merely embraced the glamour of glitzy restaurants and exotic locales in his work as a culinary superstar and travel correspondent, he weaved this value system into his work.
On Latino immigration in America, Bourdain once stated: "The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board. Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable. Illegal labor is the backbone of the service and hospitality industry—Mexican, Salvadoran and Ecuadoran in particular…. Let’s at least try to be honest when discussing this issue."
This was in 2007, before Trump’s walls or the fervent pitch of nationalist rhetoric reached its ascendance.
Bourdain’s ideals reached beyond the food sector to industries outside of his own. When Bourdain’s girlfriend, Asia Argento, added her voice to the symphony of women whose pleas for justice against Harvey Weinstein and sexual violence were finally being acknowledged in the mainstream press, Bourdain accompanied her. “To @dkny,” he tweeted to the designer after she seemed to suggest women had a role in being sexual assault victims, “[H]ow many seventeen year olds have you dressed like they are, in your words, 'asking for it?'"
He called out the media.
He called out Weinstein’s associates by name.
And he called out the complicity with rape culture embedded in Hollywood and society at large.
In an interview with GQ magazine, Bourdain was asked about his 2014 Parts Unknown episode on the heroin and opioid crisis. He addressed both the double standard of pharmaceutical companies who traffic in drug sales without the stigma of criminality and the sympathy afforded to small-town communities and rural whites (which policy makers and media outlets failed to extend to the largely black victims of the 1980s crack epidemic).
“Now that the white captain of the football team and his cheerleader girlfriend in small-town America are hooked on dope,” Bourdain asserted, “maybe we’ll now stop demonizing heroin as a criminal problem and start dealing with it as the medical and public-health problem that it is, and should be.”
“These pharmaceutical-company executives are dope dealers,” he added, “and they should be treated worse and more roughly than dope dealers. You’ve got some disadvantaged black kid. You’re working in a one-company town, and that company happens to be a street gang selling heroin.”
Bourdain is gone, this much is true. But as society pushes forward to answer the hard questions about what kind of world we want for the future, how inclusive and how understanding we want to be, it’s important to know that "allyship" is not something you bestow upon yourself.
It’s not your equivalent of street credibility because you went to a protest.
It is, as Bourdain showed us, the way you live your life and make room for others. It’s being inclusive and understanding without being boastful. It’s looking inward and being self-aware. And it’s never claiming it for yourself.
Bourdain describes himself on his Twitter bio simply as an “enthusiast.” May we, too, strive to use our own enthusiasm to engage, and advocate for the many people marginalized in parts unknown.

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