“The Bachelor” franchise is far better known for perpetuating racism than for thoughtfully discussing it. But on this week’s episode, the painfully whitewashed show actually acknowledged that racism exists and that the current political climate has heightened the visibility of overt racism. The bar is very low, but for “The Bachelor” this is uncharted territory ― and it made for pretty great TV.
This isn’t the first time the show has skimmed the surface of race in America, but it’s certainly (and sadly) the most in-depth. A few contestants have brought up their own experiences of growing up biracial during their intro packages (Christian on JoJo’s season, Taylor on this season), and we’ve seen several in-season “in the moment” interviews and conversations between the leads and their suitors in which race is addressed. Marquel on Andi’s season of “The Bachelorette” and Robyn on Sean Lowe’s season of “The Bachelor” both explicitly discussed interracial dating and the challenges they face as black contestants. But because contestants of color have traditionally rarely made it past week five or six, the show has never really discussed race beyond those simple acknowledgements that race exists. Rachel Lindsay, who got a hometown date on this season of “The Bachelor” and has already been announced as the next “Bachelorette” forced the franchise to dig ever-so-slightly deeper.
On Episode 8, Nick journeyed to Dallas to meet Rachel’s family. Though it’s already been announced that Rachel is the next Bachelorette ― and therefore won’t end up with Nick ― the date was still worth watching. Nick, who says he’s never seriously dated a black woman before, first joins her at her predominantly black church, where she makes clear that attending services together would be important to her in a relationship. Broaching religious divides, itself typically a third rail in “Bachelor” world, in such an open way made for a more honest portrait of two people navigating a possible relationship. But perhaps more importantly, Rachel makes it clear the church service was a bit of a culture test: While Nick has attended church, this would be his first time in a mostly black church. Whether he would be comfortable in that setting, she suggests, could reveal a lot about how well he’d fit into her own life.
Next, the couple meets up with Rachel’s family ― minus her father, a federal judge who couldn’t appear on the show. During the family dinner, race is an open topic of conversation. Rachel’s mother, Kathy, and sister, Constance, directly ask Nick about whether he’s dated black women before. After he emphasizes that he’s not concerned with race because of his feelings for Rachel, her sister skeptically tells the camera that ignoring race isn’t enough.
“Right now, in this climate that we’re in, I feel like we’ve seen more racism come out,” she says. “He does need to be more aware. It’s not just something you can hide and ignore and can live in your bubble.” (It’s also worth noting that this date was filmed mere days before Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States.)
“The Bachelor” has historically tried to exist in a world in which real-life forces ― like religious identity, race and political viewpoint ― don’t exist. The idea that all you need is vulnerability and a spark and an open heart to find true love is an appealing fantasy that likely shields the show from putting off certain segments of its viewership (as well as its advertisers). But after 15 years, it feels obviously ridiculous at best and actively harmful at worst. We live in a country where Jewish community centers are receiving waves of bomb threats, where churches are being vandalized with white supremacist graffiti, where the President of United States signed a travel ban targeting Muslims. Even the sappiest of TV love stories cannot escape the world it takes place in.
No one wants Rachel’s arc ― on this season or her own season of the show ― to be entirely about the color of her skin. There are so many interesting things about her, it would be a pity to just focus on one part of her identity. But not talking about race has never proven an effective way of eliminating racism; being open and thoughtful about the challenges that might, sadly, accompany an interracial relationship is valuable.
A partner who understands what race and racism mean in Rachel’s life could offer her better support and understanding. It’s clear from the most recent episode of “The Bachelor” that her family wants that for her. Plus, a show that at least attempts to mirror the real-life challenges of the world it’s situated within may prove to be more interesting, relevant, and yes, entertaining, than ever before.
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