When Rachel Lindsay was named the first black bachelorette, we knew that race would come into play on the show—and perhaps not in a good way, given the franchise’s record on sensitive issues. Those suspicions were confirmed from Rachel’s first meeting with a few of her contestants, when Dean told her, “I’m ready to go black, and I’m never gonna go back.” Rachel claimed to love that line. But since the season started, the producers have worked hard to obliterate any hope we had of a fun viewing experience this season.
They’ve concocted a whole storyline around Lee, a vocal racist on social media, and Kenny, a black wrestler who’s just trying to find love for the right reasons. Lee has repeatedly baited Kenny, interrupting his time with Rachel multiple times (a cardinal Bach sin, if you don’t watch the show) and acting like his intentions were totally pure.
Kenny’s justifiably angry response to Lee’s bullshit, which isn’t even close to the worst emotional outburst that’s ever happened on this show, was described on Monday as “aggressive” and “violent” in Lee’s one-on-one time with Rachel. When another contestant, Will, tried to explain to Lee the racist assumptions that underpin calling a black man “aggressive,” Lee didn’t learn a thing, saying he thought Kenny was playing “the race card.” Editing made Rachel appear to be more annoyed with the drama than tuned into any racial tensions. Then, Kenny and Lee were called for the show’s dreaded two-on-one date—a battle to the death (of the relationship) from which only one contestant can return.
This isn’t a nuanced or interesting look race relations in the U.S. This is forcing a black person to put up with racism in order to create drama and entertainment for viewers. And it’s not entertaining.
Kenny and Lee are not "settling scores." All we've seen is a white man gaslight and bait a black man with microaggressions. #TheBachelorette
— Emma Gray (@emmaladyrose) June 27, 2017
— Brittany Shepherd (@blrshepherd) June 27, 2017
— Chelsea Howard (@howard_chels) June 20, 2017
Bachelor franchise dad Chris Harrison claims the show didn’t know about Lee’s racist tweets when they cast him. Given the length of the casting process for these shows, I’m inclined to think that’s false. If it’s true, it shows this show has very little disregard for their first black bachelorette. In not doing due diligence to make sure outspoken racists stayed off Rachel’s season, they’ve revealed that they’re more interested in using her as a new opportunity for drama than truly breaking new ground in a respectful, responsible way.
Black men have enough people deciding that they’re aggressive and inherently violent just because of their skin color. There’s no humane reason to force them to fight the same old lethal stereotype in the heavily orchestrated fantasy world of the Bachelor franchise. It’s not fun to watch piercing dog whistles for four-plus hours, even if we’re supposed to learn a lesson from it, when we know how many times these assumptions have killed people in the real world.
Tonight, we’ll see how this particular arc ends. I have a sinking feeling that both men may be sent home, in which case Kenny will have spent weeks earnestly trying to win Rachel’s heart, only to be felled by a garden variety racist who the producers thought could add some spice to the show. It’s unfortunate that we’ve come to expect this behavior, and it’s making it hard to justify watching the show. Tonight, some fans will tweet #RosesNotRacism at Chris Harrison to show that they’re not okay the way Rachel’s been treated. Hopefully, someone on the Bachelorette team is listening.