The first full season of the Bachelor franchise I ever watched was Nick’s. It was the year of our lord 2017, Trump was just inaugurated, and I needed something, anything to dull the reality of existing in this world during this “presidency.”
So. Nick it was.
It was painfully, relentlessly boring. Nick was a stale vanilla wafer who I think spoke one complete sentence during the season’s 13 episodes (which were two. hours. long.) During his season there were many MANY women who were too good for him. In fact all of them were too good for him. Among them, there was Rachel Lindsay. Rachel killed the game from day one. She was smart, charming, funny, beautiful, and managed to carry multiple, full conversations with a man who responded “oh wow” when a different contestant revealed how her ex-finace died. Rachel didn’t come to mess around. She came to win.
And win she did. She became America’s First Black Bachelorette. If America was going to get a black bachelorette, it was always going to be one like Rachel.
A smart, successful, upper tax bracket black girl. The “right” type of black girl. ABC was not going to give us a low-income black girl. Or a black girl raised by a single parent. Or even a black girl from Harlem. No. The racial politics of this franchise are such that the First Black Bachelorette was always going to be an attorney from a “good” neighborhood in Dallas with a strong two-parent household.
All of this is to say, I knew what I was getting in to. I knew what this season would hold. I knew what storylines the producers would try. I knew there would be many a discussion and ill-advised joke about ‘going black and never going back.’ Trust me. After existing as a black woman in predominately white spaces for 23 years I KNEW. But still I expected a little bit more than what we got. Because you see. We got Lee.
Lee is a singer/songwriter from Nashville and those four words tell you everything you need to know about this man. Oh and this man is racist. His racist tweets and opinions are well archived thanks to the magic of the internet and power of Jack Dorsey. Lee is racist. Rachel is black. Of course he was going to be on the show.
There’s also Kenny. Kenny is a black pro wrestler. He is not a small man.
I think you see where this is going.
Three or so weeks ago gave us the beginnings of The Conflict. Lee’s racist tweets were dug up and published in 4000 Bustle and HuffPo think-pieces and the producers had to pretend that they “had no idea Lee held these views. If these tweets had been brought to our attention before, he never would have been cast on the show.” Okay. Sure. You make these people sit through multiple psych-evals and screenings but his public social media feed slipped your purview? Okay. Sure.
Fast forward to last week and it begins. I’m not even exactly sure how the fight began but it was Lee vs. Kenny for what would become every Bachelor producer’s wet dream. It was an hour and a half of Lee calling Kenny aggressive then telling the other, whiter contestants about how much he gets along and loves being friends with them. It wasn’t cute. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t entertaining. It wasn’t good tv. It was pure racist trash.
Lee continued to call Kenny aggressive and say he felt threatened in between super cuts of him laughing to the producers about how funny he finds riling people up. It was jump cuts to Kenny getting increasingly angry and frustrated. It was Lee talking over Kenny and telling him to calm down and that his aggression makes him “scared for Rachel.” It was Lee asking Kenny if he wanted to punch him. It was Kenny saying “yes I do.” It was ugly and infuriating.
Like I said, I’m not delusional. I know how reality tv works. I know how the producers think and why they make the choices they do. But this is and was inexcusable. No amount of PR speak can make this seem like an accident. They specifically pit Lee against Kenny. Kenny isn’t the only black guy on this show, but he is the only black guy whose physical strength has been highlighted from episode 1. Lee isn’t the only white guy on the show, but he is the only one whose “southern sensibilities” have been highlighted from episode 1. To have Lee consistently use the phrase aggressive, a phrase with years of racial implications and history behind it, is INTENTIONAL. To have Lee then say Kenny getting offended by the term is “pulling the race card” is INTENTIONAL. To have Will, a black soft-spoken damn near perfect foil to Kenny explain Racism 101 to Lee is INTENTIONAL. I truly expected so little from this show. I knew I would have to overlook a lot. I knew they’d botch their first go at the black bachelorette. I knew it would be imperfect, but this is ridiculous. They’re using Rachel as a pawn for their racist games. They are shameless in their efforts to humiliate both her and Kenny. It’s absurd.
And I get it. I know Lee doesn’t win. I know Lee gets sent home immediately after this. I know it was all for The Drama but the fact that it would even go this far is inexcusable. Lee shouldn’t have been on the show but we all know why he was. We all know production knew about the tweets. We all know production specifically sought out someone like Lee. This plot line was written the second Rachel stepped out of the limo in Nick’s season. Even still, COME. ON. This wasn’t dumb, petty drama. This wasn’t a hilarious tiff between equals. This wasn’t Corinne vs. whatever the Emotional Intelligence girl from last season’s name was. This was pure, unadulterated racism. It wasn’t fun or funny. It was stupid.
I expected virtually nothing from you, Bachelor producers. I was fully prepared for the absolute bottom of the barrel bare minimum in reality tv woke-ness. But I still got played. Racism isn’t a plot point it is real life. My life. Rachel’s life. Real. Life. I have encountered so many Lee’s in my lifetime. So many “southern sensibilities.” I wanted to believe that Rachel wouldn’t have to deal with that. She was supposed to have won. She didn’t win Nick’s heart
thank god. She won something better. A chance on a show that prides itself on existing outside the reality of dating. That prides itself on its ability to weave fairytales out of nothing more than an open bar and cheap hair extensions. I was hoping that Rachel would get her happy ending. Her Cinderella story. But instead I got Lee.
You’ve managed to manufacture over 20 seasons of this show and somehow got a whole season out of Nick’s damp napkin personality but one black bachelorette and the only drama you can stir up is racism? Do better. Try harder. And if you can’t? Quit your job. Because in a world of Lee’s, black women deserve a fairytale. Even if it’s just for 13 two-hour episodes.