Black America, we have our first Bachelorette! She’s gorgeous, highly accomplished, decidedly brown-skinned and likely pissing off a huge swath of Trump voters (woot, woot!). But spoiler alert (among several): If you’re expecting a season full of scenic montages glorifying black love, she’s also likely to disappoint you. Manage your expectations accordingly.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a follower of the Bachelor or Bachelorette franchises. Despite my deep interest in relationship dynamics, something about the concept of dozens of women shamelessly vying for the attention of one eligible man—who will choose one, after hopelessly romancing as many as possible—never much appealed to me. Frankly, it sounded like an average hetero singleton’s summer in any urban mecca; I didn’t need to watch it on TV to know how it played out. The pandering turn of the tables on The Bachelorette was equally suspect to me (an instinct that was confirmed upon hearing that the 2015 season pitted two potential Bachelorettes against each other, with the decision made by the male contestants—WTF?).
Bottom line: If the death of romance was already nigh, I’d be best served getting my own while the getting was good. Plus, everyone already knew the black folks were generally gone by the third ep.
But ironically, I hail from an immediate family of avid Bachelor/Bachelorette viewers. Upon discovering that my current visit to our Midwestern homestead would include gathering around the 70-inch to catch the premiere, my nose reflexively wrinkled in disdain. “But she’s black!” rose the outcry (read: Our real-life Disney princess has finally arrived ... and she’s finally getting her prince!). Since two things I can never manage to do while visiting home are eat healthy and say no to family requests, I reluctantly settled in Monday night for what would inevitably be two hours of schmaltzy torture, albeit this time in sepia.
Rachel Lindsay, the 13th, and first black, Bachelorette, is understandably an easy sell; polished, credentialed and ultimately “safe” enough to have made it to the finals in last year’s Bachelor, surprisingly cementing her appeal to the masses of (predominantly white) female viewers ages 18-49 who make up a majority of the franchise’s core demographic.
Conveniently, her casting also satisfies the long-held criticism of the lack of inclusion on both shows. It’s notable that while The Bachelor is the senior of the two, a black Bachelor has yet to be introduced—presumably because of fear of how a black man engaging romantically and sexually with nonblack women would affect the popularity of the franchise.
Even in a season centered on a black woman, black men noticeably made up only about a third (11 out of 31) of the “most diverse cast” of contestants introduced during this season’s premiere, with perhaps another four to six ethnicities bringing the total number of men of color to approximately half. In fact, six of the nine who went home after the first rose ceremony were of color, leaving only seven black men among the remaining 22 contestants.
But while the pre-rose-ceremony confidence among the brothers was ridiculously high, our Bachelorette often seemed less than impressed. Ultimately, Rachel’s “first impression rose” went to a Colombian-American she admitted to being “smitten” with on sight, who easily fulfilled the “Latin lover” stereotype by being the only contestant who dared to kiss her (deeply) upon first meeting. Meanwhile, a bellowing, gimmick-laden, overgrown frat boy disappointingly garnered the coveted last rose, likely more for the sake of ratings than romance.
And how did this resonate with black viewers hoping to see some black-on-black love in prime-time reality TV? A quick perusal of my Facebook feed gave a few clues ... and folks were not amused. Fellow writer Tarana Burke summed it up most succinctly:
How you not going to give the first impression rose to a BROTHER!?! Come on Rachel. You were supposed to do it for the culture …
But what can—and should—we really expect from Rachel Lindsay? While clearly an equal-opportunity dater, her ascension to Bachelorette is only due to the fact that she wasn’t chosen by last season’s indisputably white Bachelor Nick Viall. And perhaps this is the ultimate dilemma facing our first black Bachelorette: Being the first—at anything—means the weight of “the culture’s” expectations rest firmly upon your shoulders.
A preview of upcoming episodes show both a woman open about addressing race with her nonblack beaus, as well as a weeping Rachel, lamenting that people will judge her for the decisions she’s making. One can only wonder if the decisions she’s referring to will include any black men as the season progresses.
As one who holds little faith that this franchise will ever realistically represent black love the way its network counterpart Black’ish does, I can’t guarantee I’ll be tuning in to find out. But personally, I have some sympathy for Rachel, and the undeniable scrutiny she’s going to face, no matter whom she chooses ... though just a glance at the comments section of the Fox News recap is enough to make me hope her final rose lands on the heart of a black man:
I think everyone knows she will pick a white guy given the option, if she wants a Man that will stick around after the kids!
Because this is the caveat of being “first”: the inevitable desire to both satisfy “the culture” and prove the naysayers wrong. Ultimately, in the search for true, Disney-princess-style love, Rachel’s only real responsibility is to herself (and she’s purportedly already engaged, so apparently dreams do come true). But as my friend Tarana reminds us, there’s a high likelihood that the odds won’t land in our—or the culture’s—favor:
“P.S. Prepare yourself. She will pick a white dude.”