Here's why black folk liked An­thony Bour­dain so much


When news of An­thony Bour­dain’s death by sui­cide hit the air­waves, my Face­book time­line was full of my pre­dom­i­nantly black friends mourn­ing his death. As a fan, it came as no sur­prise to me that black folk are among his huge fan base be­cause there was some­thing about this rich white man that ra­di­ated so brightly that his race be­came an in­con­se­quen­tial back­drop to his fas­ci­nat­ing shows and out of the box ap­proach to liv­ing.

As ev­ery­one likely knows by now, Bour­dain, the celebrity chef who could kick it with pres­i­dents as well as ev­ery day cit­i­zens, was found dead in his ho­tel room last week while he and his small crew were in France work­ing on his CNN se­ries, “Parts Un­known.”

Hear­ing of his death put me in a somber mood. De­signer Kate Spade com­mit­ted sui­cide a few days be­fore and, although I know lit­tle about her, the idea that she killed her­self had me think­ing about life and how pre­cious it is. Had me think­ing about how what a per­son presents to the world can be so dif­fer­ent from their real­ity. Had me think­ing about just how much I don’t like sui­cides and how the so­cial worker in me be­lieves if I could have just 15 min­utes with a per­son con­tem­plat­ing end­ing it all, I would con­vince them to keep on liv­ing – at least for an­other day. I have this hang-up about a per­son choos­ing such a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to what was likely a tem­po­rary prob­lem.

Bour­dain’s sui­cide is a real stun­ner be­cause of what he ac­com­plished. I’m not re­fer­ring to the money and fame. Those things merely re­veal who a per­son re­ally is, but to a larger au­di­ence of peo­ple. What he ac­com­plished was a trans­for­ma­tion of his life. He read­ily shared his past ad­dic­tions to heroin and al­co­hol, and his self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mor con­stantly re­minded view­ers that he didn’t take him­self too se­ri­ously.

He trav­eled to more than 80 coun­tries and made it a point to con­nect with peo­ple in ar­eas not nor­mally vis­ited by dig­ni­taries and other food show per­son­al­i­ties. He wasn’t go­ing there to con­de­scend­ingly put any­body's way of liv­ing on dis­play – he was go­ing there to con­nect with their spirit, usu­ally around a large table filled with food cooked by some­one in the fam­ily who pre­pared it from scratch.

He also found au­then­tic, less pop­u­lar restau­rants that might not make the top 10 of any culi­nary list but serve good food and charm­ing at­mos­pheres that keep peo­ple com­ing back for more. It’s how he ended up at MLK Restau­rant in Lib­erty City, Cap­tain Jim’s Seafood in North Mi­ami and B&M Mar­ket in Lit­tle Haiti dur­ing his vis­its to Mi­ami.

When I watch food shows that in­clude cov­er­age of restau­rants, I can’t help count­ing the num­ber of black cus­tomers fre­quent­ing the place. If there are none of us in there, it's not go­ing on my "must visit" list be­cause I won­der about whether we’re wel­come.

Bour­dain often in­cluded restau­rants with di­verse clien­te­les. It was al­most as if he was drawn to the soul of an es­tab­lish­ment and con­veyed it in his au­then­tic in­ter­ac­tions with peo­ple. He al­ways seemed gen­uinely in­ter­ested in what they had to say – ca­pa­ble of a skill that es­capes many, many peo­ple - lis­ten­ing with­out in­ter­rupt­ing. And he was coura­geously in­quis­i­tive when he came to div­ing into the meal they served him.

There was no com­men­tary about his style or in­ten­tion for en­gag­ing peo­ple from other cul­tures. The show did not an­nounce that the pur­pose of his pres­ence was to achieve thus and such. He just con­nected with a di­verse se­lec­tion of peo­ple around their food and his show suc­ceeded be­cause he went into it with an hon­est de­sire to get to know them and then tell their sto­ries.

“If you think about who the au­di­ence is and what their ex­pec­ta­tions might be, I think that's the road to bad­ness and me­di­ocrity,'' Bor­dain told the AP. “You go out there and show the best story you can as best you can. If it's in­ter­est­ing to you, hope­fully it's in­ter­est­ing to oth­ers. If you don't make tele­vi­sion like that, it's pan­der­ing.''

Be­cause of his au­then­tic­ity and seem­ingly sin­cere de­sire to con­nect with all peo­ple, Bour­dain felt like a true ally who ap­pre­ci­ated the dif­fer­ences while be­ing aware that we’re more alike than we re­al­ize. He wasn’t afraid to speak out on dif­fi­cult top­ics either, bas­ing his stance on what was right, not pop­u­lar. Of the #MeToo move­ment, he wrote,

“I stand un­hesi­tat­ingly and un­wa­ver­ingly with the women.”

His re­bel­lious nature and what ap­peared to be un­abashed free­dom to live his life on his terms are what I ad­mired most. The quote, “It takes a lot of courage to grow up and be who you re­ally are,” fits him per­fectly.

I can’t help wish­ing I could have had 15 min­utes with that brother. All we can do now is cel­e­brate the beau­ti­ful con­tri­bu­tions he made to hu­man­ity. And for that I can say, job well done.


GOOD PEO­PLE: Rap­per and busi­ness­man, Luther Camp­bell and An­thony Bour­dain dur­ing one of Bour­dain's vis­its to Mi­ami.

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