Photo credit: ABC
Ben Higgins’ season of The Bachelor marked a new obsession for me. With Olivia Caridi as a hilarious and somewhat frightening villain, I felt myself drawn to the franchise and its shenanigans. It didn’t take more than an episode or two for the noticeable lack of POC to become apparent to me. The few women of color present were clearly used as some sort of trophies to give a guise of diversity. If we’re lucky, one of them would be treated like a serious love-interest for a few weeks until some explosive drama would unexpectedly send them home giving a tragic but “dignified” ending to the POC storyline. In many minds, this was justified due to the wide array of white tomfoolery associated with the Bachelor franchise. How could anyone complain about the fact that people of color aren’t treated like fools? But as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so eloquently expresses “The real crime is the lack of intellectual and appearance diversity, which leaves the contestants as interchangeable as the Mr. Potato Head parts. The lack of racial diversity has already been commented on. If you’re black on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, you’re usually kept around as a courtesy for a few weeks before being ejected. Those outside the ideal body fat percentage index need not apply. With all eyes firmly fixed on firm buttocks, the criteria for finding love becomes how high a quarter will bounce off rock-hard abs. Will we ever witness a conversation that isn’t so bland and vacuous that words seem to evaporate as soon as they are spoken?” The subjection of countless of millions of people of various age, race, sex or creed to a spectacle of people running around like headless chickens in a desperate hunt for love is one thing. But continually perpetuating the stereotype that only a set “type” of people deserve that hunt for love has been detrimental for the past 15 years.
The Bachelor first came out on the 25th of March 2002. For 22 seasons and three spin-offs later, the show managed to stray from its recycled cast for the very first time in 2017 with 13th Bachelorette and attorney, Rachel Lindsay. The idea that such a major show could not manage inclusivity until the brutal slaughter of innocent black boys and men began an epidemic that took the media by storm or an orange reality star struck a divisive course that killed all complacency on his road to presidency makes it too clear that they’re only in this for continued relevance. While that’s not completely wrong per se, we do need to begin somewhere, much more needs to be done to erase the dangerous narrative that this franchise has set for such a long time. It’s impossible to deny that this TV franchised normalized the exclusion of POC and their mistreatment, especially black people. When it became apparent that race was a major talking point, the script was flipped and history was made. But why did things have to wait that long to get better? I can’t help but wonder if this situation is a symptom of the systematic oppression that is so deeply ingrained in all that surrounds us or if it is a cause of said oppression. Odds are, the Bachelor franchise is both. In its poor treatment of people of color, it ends up isolating potential contestants and subsequently has to use the few people of color it manages to round up as some sort of gesture of diversity.
Whether Rachel Lindsay is a much too small step for such a long time is not for me to determine. The show’s previous whitewashing is shocking, even for Hollywood’s standards but one shouldn’t discredit the attempt of progress right off the bat. The gesture might feel empty but it is never too late for the youth (or any age group really) to see black people being represented as beautiful and deserving of love … no matter how bizarre and misguided the process might be.