Bouie v Bourdain: Race is important, not all-important


We’ve all seen it. Someone gets on their high horse to criticize an idea, not even realizing their criticism proves the same idea exactly. It’s 2016 after all; irony knows no bounds. Today we have yet another shining example in the punditry.

Anthony Bourdain, CNN host and global foodie, is being celebrated for a short, but wide-eyed interview at Reason where he addresses political correctness and bubble-dwelling in the Age of Trump.

The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we’re seeing now.

I’ve spent a lot of time in gun-country, God-fearing America. There are a hell of a lot of nice people out there, who are doing what everyone else in this world is trying to do: the best they can to get by, and take care of themselves and the people they love. When we deny them their basic humanity and legitimacy of their views, however different they may be than ours, when we mock them at every turn, and treat them with contempt, we do no one any good. Nothing nauseates me more than preaching to the converted. The self-congratulatory tone of the privileged left—just repeating and repeating and repeating the outrages of the opposition—this does not win hearts and minds. It doesn’t change anyone’s opinions. It only solidifies them, and makes things worse for all of us. We should be breaking bread with each other, and finding common ground whenever possible. I fear that is not at all what we’ve done.


But as is inevitable in our modern effort to out-care each other, that kind of open-handed tolerance for our fellow man is a bridge too far for some.

Jamelle Bouie, the brilliant Slate and CBS contributor, is having none of it, in a series of tweets this afternoon.

Come on.

First of all, Bouie ignores his target. Anthony Bourdain is not a Trump conservative attempting to excuse the views of the president-elect and his voters in a naive Kumbaya ritual. (Nor am I.)

He is a liberal, one who has spent his career traveling the globe to bring unique cultures to American audiences. That doesn’t make him immune from racism, or race-insensitivity, of course, but it does mean the burden of proof is a lot higher than two paragraphs in an interview that don’t mention it.

More ironically, Bourdain actually does mention race in the interview, in the paragraph immediately preceding what Bouie quoted.

The way we demonize comedians for use of language or terminology is unspeakable. Because that’s exactly what comedians should be doing, offending and upsetting people, and being offensive. Comedy is there, like art, to make people uncomfortable, and challenge their views, and hopefully have a spirited yet civil argument. If you’re a comedian whose bread and butter seems to be language, situations, and jokes that I find racist and offensive, I won’t buy tickets to your show or watch you on TV. I will not support you. If people ask me what I think, I will say you suck, and that I think you are racist and offensive. But I’m not going to try to put you out of work. I’m not going to start a boycott, or a hashtag, looking to get you driven out of the business.

But he’s clearly agnostic on race issues…

Race is important; it isn’t the only important thing. We should be able to discuss other issues momentarily, even for two whole paragraphs, without being accused of ignoring the plight of people of color.

Anthony Bourdain of all people is not excusing racism among “red-state, gun-country, working-class America”. He’s saying we should stop looking down our noses at people, racist or not, and instead look at them and have a dialogue.

Accepting the humanity and agency of people with whom we disagree on most issues does not mean we have to accept their views on those issues. On the contrary, we should vocally and vehemently disagree with anyone, on our side or the other, red state or blue, when they are wrong.

But we can do it constructively and humanely, yes, even with those we feel are inhumane. Daryl Davis provides a perfect example.


Undoubtedly a black blues singer from Chicago thinks the KKK is among the worst parts of our country. But instead of collectively denouncing them, mocking them, or dehumanizing them as they do him, he has spent decades befriending them. The fruits of his unexpected efforts? Hundreds of mothballed white hoods.

Davis has shown over 200 cross-burning white supremacists that black people are their equal simply by treating them as his. Now that’s living outside the bubble.

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