If I Die And Come Back As A White Man, I Want To Come Back As Anthony Bourdain

19 Jun

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain Eating in Hue Vietnamphoto credit: David S. Holloway/CNN

If I die and come back as a white man, I want to come back as Anthony Bourdain.

Since the June 8th death, a suicide, at age 61 of the famed chef, author and host of the popular television show, Parts Unknown, there has been an outpouring of love for this man. Out of all the news bits, social media articles, and postings from friends, every single comment has been positive. Every. Single. One. People loved Anthony Bourdain so, so much. Whether Black, White, Latino, Asian–whatever race, ethnicity, gender–everyone loved him. But I don’t want to come back as him because I want everyone to love me even though I do want everyone to love me and am too much of a people pleaser because of that, but that’s for my therapy sessions, not you all. I want to come back as Anthony Bourdain for the reasons why he was loved.

I suspect many people loved his badassness, his New York born and bred tough guy, mince no words, strongly opinionated exterior. With his salt and pepper wavy hair, full features, sad seen-too-much eyes, tall, lanky rock-star tattooed body, and lower East Side manner of dress, Bourdain exuded cool. Sure, I always want to be cool, too, and as someone who considers herself too passive, and an avoider of conflict, I could use some of Anthony’s directness. But, these qualities were not the ones most highlighted in people’s reflections on Bourdain, the man.

It is here I have to first admit, I was not a big follower of Anthony Bourdain. I knew who he was, and ate in his restaurant, Les Halles, in New York City when I lived there, a time when chefs and their larger-than-life restaurants were real-life, not reality-tv, celebrities. But I didn’t read his book, Kitchen Confidential, and only caught a glimpse or two of Parts Unknown. I always aspired to watch, but with more time on the computer than in front of the television, I never got around to it. And, so not knowing firsthand what people thought of him, I was moved to hear the things people said about Bourdain’s humility, his openness, and, most of all, his desire to connect with other human beings across the globe, no matter their differences, or their stature in life.

Whether it was writer Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas blogging on The Root on how Bourdain used his privilege as a famous, wealthy, white man to shine the spotlight on others, and how he behaved as a guest with the hosts that received him no matter where he was, and how “..He was a tourist of the world who still treated people and cultures like people and cultures and not pamphlets.”

A friend, Lisa Billings, histotechnician by day, yet artist at heart, who is of Korean descent, spoke so beautifully in a Facebook post on her reverence for Bourdain, and what he showed us:

  …Whatever language you speak, if you’re eating chicken feet or foie gras, in a hut or a white tablecloth restaurant, deep down we’re more similar than different. He listened with his heart, with compassion and found common ground. And where there was little, he didn’t fear the divide and differences, he didn’t shrink back, judge or deride. He let it be, and carried on.

Lisa’s boyfriend, David Still, who is white and of Irish and Portuguese heritage, posted a quote from Bourdain about one of his tattoos, in ancient Greek, which says, “I am certain of nothing.”

Another friend moved by Bourdain’s humanity, Donald King, who is Black, works in arts promotion/branding, and is a cultural critic. Donald has a keen eye and ears for what’s real, and what’s fraud, what’s subversion of oppression. Because of this, Donald does not stand for any tomfoolery. He praised Bourdain for being sneaky, knowing he was doing something subversive in the way he connected with hosts wherever he visited:

“… I often check back to reference his approach when working on various different projects that have absolutely nothing at all to do with food. That’s how powerful his work was.

I recall the way I discovered that he was doing a thing on me and it was working. After a few episodes I grinned and thought to myself “this cheeky bastard…

It appeared that the man simply knew how to be a proper guest in someone’s home. And if there were elements of voyeurism at play he certainly made sure you had some context for the way his hosts lived, loved, labored, laughed and languished. and in his own unique and subversive way he deconstructed a bit of the imperial fuckery of colonialism.

Perhaps it was in his ability to show us the parts unknown about the people we are brainwashed to fear and hate. or perhaps he challenged us to look beyond the luxury and exoticism of food and travel throughout the various “shit hole” nations he traversed.”


That is the human being I want to be. No matter what race, ethnicity, gender you were, you believed Anthony Bourdain was a man that deserved your respect because he gave respect to everyone he came into contact with. That is the human I’ve been striving to be in the mental health work I do with adults, and homeless adults with mental illness and in recovery from substance abuse. I’ve journeyed from thinking decades ago that I’m this good person who is helping, to the realization and grounding in the fact that we are all connected. I am not a helper or a savior. I now come from the place of knowing I am honored to be in your presence, and I am rewarded to have you in mine. Every day I practice grace.

Even more important to me now is how I’ve strived to live in my strong desire to tear down racism, build upon positive cross-racial connections, de-center my own and other’s whiteness, and build up equity. In all of my interactions with Black American people in this country, which is my main focus here on this blog, and in my day-to day life, I have to carry in my consciousness how this country operated since white people came here, stole land from the Native people already here, enslaved Black people brought here from Africa, and continued to oppress them for over 400 years.  I feel it is my duty to, and my natural will to want to listen, to be open, to accept all that is said to me, to not become defensive when matters of race and racism are brought up, to not think I know everything, or like Bourdain quoted, to know that I know nothing. I strive to be like others said of Bourdain, when there were times when hosts challenged him, showed him the vast differences between him, his stature, culture, idealogies, that still,  Anthony Bourdain, just listened, and accepted what his hosts expressed to him. While more is being said publicly about Bourdain’s support of immigrant workers and chefs within the restaurant industry, he himself didn’t have to name what he was doing, or call attention to his humility. He just modeled it in his genuine interactions with all he connected with, in both his travels, and his work as a chef.

Life is richer when I make myself vulnerable, when I make these connections. Yes, there have been time’s I’ve been fearful of conflict, of recognition when I might have been patronizing, become defensive, felt wounded, knowing it was, and still is people with skin the same color as mine, who have administered the barbarism, the colonization, the oppression, the oppressive structures that remain in check, because people with skin that looks like mine are afraid that the illusion of their stable lives, which they believe are well-earned, will go away. I strive to let the conversations wash over me without resistance. I strive to be kind, to validate Black people’s lived experiences, to learn, to self-educate, to break down barriers, to connect, to build, to love, to simply be–without always stating that is what I/we are doing, without calling attention to it, without always naming it.

I am a work-in-progress. Yeah, when I die, I want to come back as Anthony Bourdain. I want to get it right.


Here is a poem I created on Facebook from my friends’ Status Updates in tribute to Anthony Bourdain:


RIP Anthony Bourdain

I’ve had such admiration
for this man
the way he
lived life out loud and
invited us all on his
fantastic voyages
I saw things I
never knew existed
it was like we
all traveled with him
and tried the delicacies
that he tried
second, I am not surprised,
practically ever,
when it comes to suicide.
the strongest people, smiling,
joking, seeming to
enjoy life the most
right in front of you
are the ones
finding it the hardest to
get out of bed in the morning
he was a kind, engaged,
respectful traveler who always,
no matter how humble a
situation he found himself in,
always demonstrated gratitude
without condescension, and
seemed to
derive the most joy from
simple, genuine experiences

“I have a tattoo on my arm
that says, in ancient greek,
‘I am certain of nothing.’
I think that’s a good
operating principle.”

I learned something deeply profound
from this man, or perhaps
I was reminded of something and
was startled to see it
reflected on mainstream television
it was indirect and subversive and
I suspect it was pretty important although
I can’t quite put my finger on it
it appeared that the man simply knew how
to be a proper guest in someone’s home, and
if there were elements of voyeurism at play he
certainly made sure you had
some context for the way his hosts
lived, loved, labored, laughed and languished.
and in his own unique and subversive way
he deconstructed a bit of the imperial f*ckery
of colonialism

I pray we may all challenge ourselves to
delve into the deepest resources of
our hearts to
cultivate an atmosphere of
understanding, acceptance, tolerance,
and compassion
I think if all friends made promises
to each other, it would
help a lot of people
to keep on going
learn to light a candle in
the darkest moments of
someone’s life

“your body is not a temple, it’s an
amusement park.
enjoy the ride.”

I think he was happiest when sitting on
an upturned bucket
eating street noodles.

‘Many thanks to contributors: Denene Miller, Gem Barros,  Christopher Johnson, Lisa Billings, Anthony Bourdain quote via David Still, Donald King, Linda Thompson quote via Susan Marine Suhanovsky, Rodney L Davis





Anthony Bourdain Was Remarkable Because He Possessed Qualities That Shouldn’t Be, www.verysmartbrothas.theroot.com, By Damon Young, June 8, 2018



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