The Bachelorette used racism as plot fodder

ABC’s The Bachelorette proved they are incapable of tackling issues of race 

This year’s Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay
This year’s Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay
Credit: 
Screenshot via YouTube

The first time I watched the Bachelor was in 2015: the first semester of my second year, my housemates insisted I watch the show with them in our kitchen. I agreed, not expecting myself to find it engaging in any way. 

Instead, that day, I become more invested in the show than I care to admit. The Bachelor and Bachelorette became the shows I hated that I liked. 

Fast forward to this year: Rachel Lindsay was declared the first ever woman of colour to become the bachelorette. 

When I first heard the news, I was half-pleased, half-frustrated. It shouldn’t have taken 34 seasons of this franchise - over 15 years - to have a black person in the lead role. But better late than never I guess? 

I was also wary. I wasn’t sure if Bachelorette producers would be able to properly navigate the racial politics that would undoubtedly accompany Rachel’s casting. 

And little to my surprise,  racism eventually became fodder for plot on the show.

Contestant Lee Garrett, a country musician who was initially mildly irritating, quickly took a turn for the worse when he began deliberately picking on his fellow contenders. Specifically,  contestant Dean Uglert said Lee was doing this to men he likely did not interact with regularly — i.e. the black men.

During his time on the show, Lee had a few verbal confrontations with black contestants Eric and Kenny, neither of whom were remotely violent, where he antagonized and belittled them. He then promptly lied to Rachel about these arguments, repeatedly and negligently calling Kenny “aggressive“. What’s more, Lee took blatant, obvious and horrifying “joy in making Kenny’s world crumble“, to use Lee’s own words.  

Another black contestant named Will calmly and very eloquently attempted to explain to Lee why his unwarranted use of the term ‘aggressive’ was not only negative, but racially charged, saying, “There is a long-standing history of regarding black men in America as ‘aggressive’ to justify a lot of other things.” 

Lee, instead of taking Will’s words into consideration, became defensive and accused Kenny of “playing the race card.” 

It later came out that Lee had a series of Islamophobic, homophobic and racist tweets on his Twitter account, where he likened the Black Lives Matter movement to terrorism, insulted feminist women and inexplicably compared Hillary Clinton to OJ Simpson. 

All contestants on this show go through background checks and psychological tests because the producers are responsible for ensuring a safe environment. Considering this to be true, I find it hard to believe the producers were unaware of the dangerous ideas that Lee was perpetuating. If they truly weren’t, that’s irresponsible. If they were, that means they deliberately cast a bigot. 

On a show that promotes itself as focused on romance, we have black men being forced to navigate a racial minefield by trying to explain racism to a man who does not care enough to listen. It stopped being petty drama and became something more, in the worst way. 

The final straw was when I saw the promo for the next episode following Kenny and Lee’s argument, where the two were pitted against each other on a two-on-one date with Rachel. Kenny, a doting father to a young girl and an all-around nice guy, was forced into direct competition with an obviously prejudiced man, all for the sake of drama. It was cruel. 

Not to mention, Rachel was put in a situation where her decision would have more consequences than any previous bachelorette. She didn’t just have two guys who disliked each other; she had a man being subjected to racism versus a man who took pleasure in it. If she’d unwittingly chosen Lee over Kenny, the judgment she’d have faced when the episode aired would have been paramount. It was incredibly unfair to her. Although she couldn’t have known at the time, she would have been severely judged.

I didn’t watch that episode and I haven’t watched the season since. I know she picked Kenny over Lee, thankfully, but this situation really soured my opinion of the show and franchise. 

I want to hope that Bachelorette producers will learn from their mistakes this season. But odds are, that won’t happen anytime soon. 

 

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