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.