I have repeatedly referred to my devotion to The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise (never Bachelor in Paradise) as a guilty pleasure. I feel guilty because these shows have always been full of f-cked up, anti-feminist rhetoric, “the marriage plot”, and a significant lack of diversity. Plus, it’s a show where people date for a few weeks on camera then decide to get married. It’s insane. However, it’s a pleasure because I’m a sucker for a good love story and some good ol’ fashioned girl sh-t or boy sh-t. Over the past couple weeks, watching my girl Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelorette has been pleasurable but it has also been extremely frustrating and exhausting.
Last night concluded a two-part four-hour special, which opened with a VO from the human embodiment of a waste of space, franchise host Chris Harrison:
“Kenny and Lee have hated each other since the moment they met.”
He goes on to narrate what has happened between the contestants like it’s just another Bachelorette feud rooted in two dudes fighting over the same woman. THAT IS NOT WHAT IS HAPPENING. We’ve shouted out Ali Barthwell’s exceptional Vulture recaps before. Yesterday, she asked us to acknowledge exactly what ABC has been doing this season.
Let’s all just join hands and reflect on what is going on. They dropped a black man, a black woman, and a WHITE RACIST PERSON in the middle of the Norwegian forest just because… racist people are dangerous. They’re dangerous, y’all. They can cause physical and psychological harm to people of color. But this whooooole thing is being played off like Lee is just “jealous” or “egotistical” and that Kenny has played some part in this.
Raise your hand if you feel personally victimized by The Bachelorette producers. We KNOW Kenny can raise his hand. F-ck, at this point, any black person watching this show can. Lee is a racist “piece of alternative facts garbage,” as Kenny would say. When I wrote about the horrible audacity of ABC to knowingly put a racist in the mix to live with black men and date a black woman, I noted how dangerous this scenario could get. On the outset, Kenny and Lee’s confrontations never got physical so the danger may not seem clear to the uninitiated. You might buy that bullsh-t VO, no doubt written by a white producer, that this “feud” is just like any other dispute on any other season. But it IS dangerous for a black man to continually be referred to as “aggressive” and “violent” while a white man makes up stories of this so-called aggression to a woman he is trying to impress. We’ve watched Lee gaslight Kenny over and over, causing him to get agitated and call Lee a mirage of names. Kenny is hilarious so a lot of his responsive taunting was entertaining but it was mostly sad and unnervingly familiar. It wasn’t fun or funny. We live in a world where a black man proving that he is not aggressive or violent is a matter of life or death. Of course, Kenny got emotional. Of course, Kenny felt like he had to defend himself, even when he probably should have just walked away. This sh-t should not be fodder for reality show drama.
One of my favourite writers, Ira Madison III, wrote an on-point piece for The Daily Beast last week called How ‘The Bachelor’ Franchise Is Exploiting Race For Ratings:
As a producer of a television show, you can choose to tell either a human story or an exploitative one that trades in stereotypes and potential criminal behavior for ratings. When it comes to their brave new world of black contestants, The Bachelor franchise seems to have opted for the latter.
Not only have the producers exploited their black male contestants for the sake of stupid storylines, they have also done a major disservice to their lead. They spent so much time on Lee The Racist that they’ve neglected to give context to many of Rachel’s romantic decisions. There have been a few times Rachel has been criticized for keeping white contestants while sending black suitors home. Last night, *SPOILER* she said goodbye to Kenny, one of my faves Josiah, the Fullbright Scholar Anthony, and the ultimate “WE WERE ROOTING FOR YOU” contestant, Will. Matt (WHO?) and Adam, two mediocre white men she never seems to interact with, are still there. I predicted that there would be criticism of Rachel’s decisions if the majority of the final men were white. The thing is, when they have actually shown us Rachel’s interactions with the men she has sent home, her choices seem completely rational and defendable. She and Kenny came to a very mature, mutual compromise so he could go home and reunite with his daughter. Last week, Rachel called out Josiah for not seeming like he gives a sh-t about her life. This week, Will’s exit was COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED. Here’s where I try to talk about Will’s comments on yesterday’s episode without just screaming at you in all caps.
Will was the lucky man who scored a one-on-one date with Rachel. Before the date, he reveals to Eric, another black contestant, that he “typically doesn’t date black women.” RECORD SCRATCH. Hold up. What? Then, during his date with Rach, she asks him, “What do you look for in a girl?” and his response is, “Typically, I date white girls.” WILL. IS. CANCELLED. Back at the hotel, the other men talk about their history of dating black girls and whether or not Will is “attracted to black women.” Y’ALL. I can’t tell you how frustrating this conversation was to watch. I’ve mentioned before how hard it is in the dating world for black women. This is exactly why. We are repeatedly told, by white and black men, that black women are a “type” that some men just aren’t into. There has never been a conversation like this about any other lead in Bachelorette history. The dudes on JoJo’s season never sat around debating whether they date basic brunettes in real estate. Since we rarely see images of black women being adored and desired, these kinds of conversations are seen as acceptable, normal even. I had a very real, physical reaction watching this all unfold. Sometimes, when I go into an anxiety spiral, I get terrified of having to be single ever again. I remember the insecurity of wondering if a guy I liked would be “into black girls.” I know this is some bullsh-t but that inner voice can be hard to silence. It’s partially why I was so excited for this season. I just wanted Rachel to be loved without having to deal with this sh-t. I wanted to feel the pleasure of multiple men pining over Rach, without wondering whether or not she was desirable enough for them. She is too good for every man in this competition. She is too good for the producer manipulation and racist exploitation her season has been riddled with. Can we just fast forward to the part where Rachel and Peter (this is not a spoiler, I just love him) get engaged and live happily ever? Can we start having fun again?