What Anthony Bourdain Taught Us About Being an Ally
TW: suicide, Weinstein, Batali
Anthony Bourdain, the world renowned chef and TV host, passed away last Friday from suicide. Sadly, it is only in Bourdain's death that we have all truly acknowledged the decency and humanity this man had, in all areas of his life. This late acknowledgement is largely to do with Bourdain's humility and respect for the world bigger than him: he knew the injustices and the oppressions people suffered in the world were not about him, and so he was loud on behalf of others, not on behalf of himself.
He was generally a pretty good guy, although he wasn't quick to admit it himself, as he saw the growth and accountability needed as a privileged white man. He hosted the food programme 'Parts Unknown', where he travelled across the globe to places most wouldn't think to look, and often where people didn't want to look. From Palestine to Antarctica, he knew all humans had humanity, no matter where they lived. He was respectful, and knew the journey was not about himself, but was about opening people's minds to the beautiful diversity of life around the world. He made fun of himself, and always gave time and admiration to the matriarchs of the family.
Alongside his work opening up North America's TV screens to different cultures of the world, Bourdain was an incredible ally for the people who spoke out in the 'Me Too' movement. He was in a relationship with Asia Argento, a survivor of the disgraced Harvey Weinstein, and continually supported her and elevated her's and others' voices above the silence of many men in the industry.
He was not perfect, and he was the first to admit that. As shown in his statement above, he knew he needed to be better for the people in his life, the women in his life, who he should have been there for. He evaluated his own industry and the entrenched misogyny restaurant culture harbours, taking note of how he may have contributed to this culture. He is not simply a finger pointer, he asks himself what he did, or didn't do, that perpetuated such unequal and exploitive industries.
Bourdain’s starting point is rare: Where did I go wrong?(https://www.vox.com/2018/6/8/17441716/anthony-bourdain-metoo-sexual-assault)
Unlike many men, famous or otherwise, he was not silent, and he was not defensive: he was honest and real, and was accountable.
'I am a guy on TV who sexualizes food. Who uses bad language. Who thinks our discomfort, our squeamishness, fear and discomfort around matters sexual is funny. I have done stupid offensive shit. And because I was a guy in a guy’s world who had celebrated a system—I was very proud of the fact that I had endured that, that I found myself in this very old, very, frankly, phallocentric, very oppressive system and I was proud of myself for surviving it. And I celebrated that rather enthusiastically.'
He saw the problems of his actions and his active participation in a culture that benefitted him at the expense of others. And he saw that all of these situations need to be past tense. He didn't shy away from calling out his close friends/colleagues (as many did) calling out fellow chef/accused abuser Mario Batali.
Most importantly, Anthony Bourdain listened. He was not silent, which is important, but he knew the words he spoke must be routed in his respect and admiration for all survivors, all women. He was kind, and was a passionate advocate for his partner Asia Argento - always having her back at every blind corner.
If you are struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, there are many places you can reach out to for help, including the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK). More importantly, if you see someone is struggling, or if you haven't heard from a friend in a while, check in on them. It is with sadness that we learnt of Bourdain's struggles with mental health and addiction, but it is with gratitude that we must take his lessons in being a good ally. He showed it was always about growing, always about questioning, and always about listening.