Looks like the big racial drama “The Bachelorette” teed up for this season has begun to unfold.
Lee Garrett, a contestant on first black Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay’s season, made clear in a number of widely reported tweets that he has less-than-flattering views of black, Muslim, LGBT and female people. On the last episode of the show, which aired June 5, he openly antagonized a black cast member, Eric Bigger.
So it was disheartening, but not surprising, when Garrett escalated his misbehavior on Monday night by needling Kenny King, a black single father and pro wrestler who quickly became a fan favorite on the show. After sparking an argument with King by hovering and repeatedly interrupting his time with Lindsay, Garrett bragged in confessionals that he enjoyed getting under King’s skin and would happily make him look bad to the Bachelorette.
He later pulled Lindsay aside and told her that the wrestler had yelled and become “aggressive” toward him. Pressed on the details, Garrett reiterated that King had yelled at him and given him the finger.
After Lindsay relayed this criticism to King, he wasn’t having any of it. “Watch the tape, I was 10 feet away from this guy,” he pointed out in a confessional interview. “Aggression without action is just talk.”
This was the second time Garrett had insinuated a black man on the show had behaved in a frightening manner, both times after the contestant in question had vocally defended himself but hadn’t shown any apparent signs of physical aggression. Why was this so troubling? Well, this sort of claim is an extremely dangerous dog whistle. The term “aggressive,” as many Twitter users pointed out, has long been used to paint black men as ominous ― and to justify violence against them.
Teaser clips have shown black contestant Will Gaskins attempting to explain the fraught connotations of “aggressive” to a dubious Garrett. But given his checkered social media history, and his willingness to openly brag about provoking and smearing King and Bigger, it seems like his problem isn’t that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. His problem, it seems, is that he thinks he can get away with using coded language to tear down black contestants.
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