Why should we care that the next Bachelorette is black?
That’s nice, we guess
Fifteen years after The Bachelor premiered in 2002, a black woman will be calling the shots on its sister show, The Bachelorette, ABC’s weekly doses of ersatz competitional romance and gender essentialism. Surely this means The Bachelorette’s executive producers are a shoo-in for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
On Monday, it was revealed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that Rachel Lindsay, 31, a personal injury lawyer from Dallas, would be this new bachelorette. Lindsay is currently a contestant on Season 21 of The Bachelor. ABC chose to break from its habit of selecting the runner-up of one show (in this case The Bachelor) as the romantic prize of the next (The Bachelorette). Lindsay was announced as the next bachelorette before the current season of The Bachelor was even winnowed down to three remaining women, commonly known as the “farm team” for the next show.
The announcement of the network’s first black bachelorette follows a summer in which journalists at the summer 2016 Television Critics Association press tour questioned ABC president Channing Dungey about the possibilities for a nonwhite bachelor or bachelorette. Outside of season 18 bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis, who was Venezuelan and light, bright and damn near white, they’ve all been white.
At the time, Dungey told reporters that while she’d like to see more diversity among bachelors and bachelorettes, the network was reluctant to stray from the shows’ established built-in feeder system. “It’s worked very well for us because the audience feels engaged [in selecting] the candidate,” she said at the time. “What we’d like to do is broaden that. We need to increase the pool of diverse candidates in the beginning. That is something we really want to put some effort and energy towards.”
The announcement of Lindsay as the next bachelorette also follows the second season of UnReal, the Lifetime show starring Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby that offers a behind-the-scenes look at a Bachelor-like dating competition show called Everlasting. UnReal, which was a hit among critics and won a Peabody award for its debut season, was co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who worked as an associate producer on The Bachelor. UnReal’s second season revolved around the decision to introduce its first black suitor.
Which brings us to this moment, in which Lindsay, who is clearly, unambiguously black, is the next bachelorette. Bring on the hosannas, yes?
Even without Lindsay, 21 seasons of straight white bachelors (less Galavis) and 12 of straight white bachelorettes serves as its own bizarre commentary on race, beauty standards and desirability, definitions of Americana, and who gets to find love and what that idealized version of love should exemplify. The Bachelor franchise, as it currently exists, paints a very narrow portrait of romantic expectations. Set aside the “reality” of a group of men or women, all in competition with each other for one person, cohabitating in a McMansion where nearly every move they make is recorded on camera. It is a universe in which white people are almost uniformly the top prize, yes, but it’s also a universe in which gay romance is … not a thing.
Furthermore, how would the franchise work if the bachelor was someone like Ravi Patel, the actor and director behind the Meet the Patels, his PBS Independent Lens documentary about allowing his Indian parents to become heavily involved in the process of wife-seeking? We don’t know, because it’s never happened.
The Bachelor franchise maintains that love and marriage are for cisgender straight people who believe that they’re supposed to be with one person for the rest of their lives — you know, twue wove. In pursuit of this love, especially if you are a woman, it’s paramount that you muffle any part of yourself that might come across as unpleasant, or outside the mainstream, or horror of horrors, a turnoff to the man with the power to bestow a rose upon you. That, apparently, is called “winning.” In an age when there are more ways than ever to be in a committed relationship, whether it’s monogamishamy, or polyamory, or a long-term partnership that excludes marriage, or any other number of possibilities, why are we so hung up on a show that’s basically a truly weird parade of white heteronormativity?
In the formalwear-kitted, cliché-driven, alcohol-fueled alternate reality of The Bachelor, love —or something like it — is expected to culminate in marriage, or at the very least, a proposal. What’s more, in the Bachelor universe, the viewing public feels comfortable shaming participants for having sex with someone they’re unlikely to marry — that is, having sex with a contestant before the show’s penultimate episode. After all, the whole premise for the show was built around a mythic fairy tale model of love (totally not an issue, amiright?) and courtship, as evidenced by the title of Logo’s own take on The Bachelor featuring gay men: Finding Prince Charming.
So: Should there be a black bachelorette? Sure — just as much, in future, as there should be bachelors and bachelorettes who are Desi, or East Asian, or Middle Eastern, or Latino or Native American, or African or gay or fat or disabled, or HIV-positive, or something other than upper-middle-class or rich, or some smashed-up combination of the aforementioned attributes. Should that impact our understanding of The Bachelor and its spin-offs as backward-looking, socially engineered, hermetically sealed, professionally lighted courtship environs that have no basis in how people actually find love or relationships?
No. Of course not.
Furthermore, making a show that sincerely incorporates and celebrates diversity (not just assimilation) would require a fundamental rethinking and rejiggering of The Bachelor franchise’s central identity. As long as the current model keeps bringing in satisfactory ratings, there’s no suggestion that’s likely to happen. (Who knows — maybe Lindsay will request a competition among her suitors that rewards whichever one is best with a rattail comb and jar of Blue Magic. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.)
Still, that doesn’t mean the Bachelor franchise has zero redeeming qualities. One, without it, we’d never have the terrific first season of UnReal, and two, we also wouldn’t have this:
Silver linings, people. Silver linings.