'The Bachelorette' Has A Black Problem

This season's attempt at diversity reeks of tokenism.

Rachel Lindsay’s “historic” debut as the first black bachelorette in the thirteen season history of the show has proven to be a feeble effort by show producers, the consequences of which have been tokenism and tired tropes in order to make this melanin enriched season palatable for the masses.

Watching The Bachelorette is a pastime in my household. We crowd the couch and provide incessant live narration as we flip flop between our early favorites, grow impatient at contestants who have overstayed their welcome, and laugh at the fact that adults put their lives on hold to go on television in order to find love (this is much politer than how my father puts it). We love the show not in spite of these qualities but rather because of them. Week after week and season after season we come back, fully acknowledging the oxymoron that exists in calling it “reality” television.

With incredulity, we watch the weekly jet setting to different parts of the globe to go on dates that cost thousands of dollars while wearing clothes that cost thousands of dollars and think how easy it must be to fall in love with such a constructed image of a fairytale paradise. It is hard for me to make it through an episode without an eye roll, but the second episode of this season has left me with a bit more repugnance. **SPOILERS AHEAD, PROCEED WITH CAUTION*

As I watch this season, it will be impossible not to be cognizant of how it is racially coded.

Rachel took it to the basketball courts for one of her group dates, during which we got to see a lot more of DeMario—particularly his basketball prowess and his affinity for showboating. It seems that just as Rachel was falling for him, a curveball was tossed her way. Now, I will mention that in order to keep up with my mom and me, my dad does his research ahead of time, which means that we constantly beg him not to let any spoilers slip. As we watched, he let on to this episode’s drama with a subtle, “the producers brought someone else in to spice up the plot early on in the season.”

He was right. After the basketball game, it seemed that there were all smiles except for an irate white woman who wanted to speak with Rachel. It turns out that this woman was an ex-girlfriend, or perhaps the current girlfriend, of DeMario, the charming showboat who was beginning to capture Rachel’s attention. With her cell phone in hand, she was prepared to ruin not only DeMario’s chances at finding love with Rachel but also his reputation on television. And while my mom was quick to condemn him for “getting what he deserves,” I felt that the rest of the episode became a textbook example of how mainstream media champions itself for doing the bare minimum in the diversity department (for The Bachelorette this means selecting a black woman as the lead and filling Bachelor mansion with equally melanated men) but is eager to manufacture played-out tropes and stereotypes once these contestants are on air.

With DeMario, we got the unreliable, cheating black man. Could DeMario be those things? Certainly, and perhaps he is; however, the show’s producers went out of their way to establish contact with this woman from his past, reveal their filming location, and get her microphoned so that she could obliterate DeMario in a fury that ended with incriminating text message receipts. This is where the problem lies—the show decided that it would be worthwhile, and even entertaining, to go to extra lengths in order to have a white women vilify a black man with common stereotypes that depict black men as sex-thirsty, two-timing, beings with an incapacity to be in a committed relationship for long. With this manufactured, made for TV plot twist, the producers were sending a clear message: that this is what happens when you make The Bachelorette diverse. This was a moment of pandering as if to say, “look how juicy we can get now that we have some black guys!,” revealing the tokenism that reeks in this season as we watched the producers reach to include a storyline that aligns with pre-conceived notions and stereotypes about black men in the romantic context.

When ABC decided to announce the first black bachelorette, they ticked off the diversity box and embarked on a journey of tokenization of black hopefuls.

To make matters worse, DeMario returns to bachelor mansion to explain himself and is greeted by security, who tell him that he is not allowed back on the premises. A cheater? An immature fool with poor communication skills? These are plausible characterizations of DeMario, but this reception suggested that he is a criminal. The fact that he was told he is not allowed back on the premises after being outed as insincere is quite drastic once we remember that Chad Johnson from JoJo Fletcher’s season was actually a danger to others in the house, making threats to his fellow contestants on numerous occasions (how can we forget when he said he’d rip off their limbs and toss them in the pool) and even getting physical with Evan. Still, he remained in the house (until JoJo sent him home), never being told that he should leave the premises or was not welcome on the premises. I look forward to next week’s episode and seeing how the producers finish up the mess they created with the DeMario scandal.

Rachel gets confronted by a woman from DeMario’s past.
Rachel gets confronted by a woman from DeMario’s past.

As I watch this season, it will be impossible not to be cognizant of how it is racially coded. And I do not fault myself for that. When ABC decided to announce that Rachel was the first black bachelorette, before she was even eliminated in Nick’s season, they displayed their eagerness to tick off the diversity box and embark on a journey of tokenization of black hopefuls. Perhaps it was too preemptive to celebrate the arrival of a black Bachelorette, or maybe we should petition for Flava Flav’s Flavor of Love to make a comeback. Regardless, The Bachelorette franchise has merely quieted their lawsuits from years past about not casting blacks. In order to be truly inclusive and progressive, they must resist the urge to construct extraneous plot lines centering on the black contestants being undeserving, self-righteous, unfaithful individuals who dare not even step on the premises.