‘The Bachelor’ Never Shows Up for Black Contestants. Are We Really Surprised?

The franchise’s diversity quick fix has still failed its contestants of color

Matt James in “The Bachelor.” Photo: Craig Sjodin/Getty Images

Last June, The Bachelor kicked off an exhaustive sweep of changes as it responded to criticism over the franchise’s lack of diversity.

From the surprise announcement that Matt James would be the first Black Bachelor to talk of employees attending diversity workshops, the franchise appeared to fast-track diversity efforts after largely ignoring race for almost two decades. Even the show’s executive producers released a statement about the role they played in the limited representation — they pledged to “expand diversity in our cast, in our staff, and most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television.”

Many fans questioned the timing of the sudden focus on diversity issues; the quickfire changes happened in unison with a global wave of Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism, police brutality, and social injustice.

Despite the collective eye rolls of viewers and former Bachelor talent who’d been demanding more diversity for years, fans curiously watched the franchise attempt to take small steps toward correcting its failures.

By the start of Clare Crawley’s season last October — which was also the first season I’ve ever watched — there were immediate red flags that cast doubt about whether the franchise’s diversity efforts were justified.

Tayshia Adams replaced Crawley when the season’s first lead accepted Dale Moss’ proposal after just a couple of weeks. Adams certainly provided yet another visible representation of alleged efforts to expand diversity. Despite her season being filled with many Black and Brown contestants, blatant discrepancies in screen time compared to White contestants still posed a glaring problem.

Merely offering a visual representation of Black and Brown contestants seemed more important than the additional work of ensuring those contestants — and their backstories — were represented through inclusive editing and screen time during each episode.

The Bachelor’s January debut offered another fresh start, mainly since it followed the franchise’s statement about a newfound commitment to diversity. Although James’s season had the most diverse cast in The Bachelor’s history, viewers quickly noticed the show’s Black and Brown contestants yet again received less screen time than White contestants.

Then the season was entirely upended by a racism scandal involving contestant Rachael Kirkconnell.

Kirkconnell faced racism allegations days after the season’s premiere. She was initially accused of bullying her friends in high school and liking racist social media posts. The controversy grew once The Sun published images of Kirkconnell at an antebellum plantation-themed ball she attended in 2018 as a student at Georgia College & State University.

The franchise claimed it was working to make a more healthy and welcoming space for its Black and Brown contestants, staff, and viewers. Its actions in response to the racism allegations against Kirkconnell have spoken louder.

The show’s February 15 episode aired two weeks after the Kirkconnell plantation ball photos were released and six days after host Chris Harrison’s incredibly insensitive interview with Rachel Lindsay on Extra TV. Rather than thank Lindsay for at least attempting to highlight the show’s flaws in vetting contestants, Harrison criticized her questions during an Extra TV interview, minimized Kirkconnell’s actions as nothing more than a college girl having fun and demanded people extend “grace” and “compassion.”

Harrison defended and protected Kirkconnell, while Lindsay was left to compartmentalize her emotions related to the controversy in an attempt not to come off as rude or irrational.

The Black and Brown women of The Bachelor’s current season released a joint statement denouncing racism and supporting Lindsay. The men of The Bachelorette season 16 also released a joint statement supporting her. James, Adams, and more past contestants of color also spoke out in support.

As of February 22, the night of the most recent Bachelor episode, the franchise still hadn’t released a statement on the racism allegations or Harrison’s interview with Lindsay. James did release his own statement on Instagram ahead of the episode.

Contestants were unaware of Kirkconnell’s participation in the antebellum-themed event. But watching the remaining women of color — and the show’s first Black Bachelor — interact with a White woman who intentionally chose to attend a party celebrating an exceptionally traumatic era in American history for Black people left me uneasy. My discomfort and annoyance have been shared and expressed by many viewers on social media as well.

The lack of a response from the franchise regarding the racism controversy has made it evident its rushed attempt to correct race issues was nothing more than the performative diversity; many Black and Brown people already recognized the changes to be just that.

This lack of accountability on the show’s behalf is beyond disrespectful to its Black and Brown contestants — especially when their images were used to attempt to prove its commitment to change.

During that 13-minute Extra TV interview with Lindsay, Harrison suggested that the franchise has no responsibility to speak out about the controversy — even if it directly affects its cast members of color.

“It’s first on Rachael. I don’t think it is incumbent upon ‘The Bachelor’ franchise to speak out on everything that everyone wants to hear about on social media. We’re not in the business of dealing with every problem that you have,” he said. “We don’t have the time of day to handle everything that people comes up with on social media. What I do think is interesting is that the show does push these social issues. On the ‘Women Tell All,’ we do get into it. Rachael was not there, but Rachael will have her time to speak and hopefully, I will be there to have that debate with her. I will push her. I will make it uncomfortable. I will try to hold her feet to the fire as much as I can and then you guys can be the judge and the jury…I don’t think the show needs to speak before Rachael does, that’s not fair.”

This lack of accountability on the show’s behalf is beyond disrespectful to its Black and Brown contestants — especially when it used their images to attempt to prove its commitment to change. But now that the time has come to regard the valid feelings and concerns of Black and Brown cast members due to a contestant’s racist actions, the franchise remains silent.

The show has offered no comment or support to the group most directly offended and affected by Kirkconnell’s actions.

Lindsay warned about the exact situation The Bachelor now faces during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live in 2020. She stressed the need to do a better job vetting contestants after a racist contestant landed on her season of The Bachelorette.

This is even more proof that listening to Black women is always an invaluable decision — despite society’s continual refusal to do so.

“People of color are not given the benefit of the doubt. … I have to stay even-keeled. I have to stay calm. I cannot react, I cannot show emotion and the reason is because once I do that, that is all people will see,” Lindsay said on her Higher Learning podcast with Van Lathan while recounting the interview with Harrison. “I will be angry; I will be aggressive. You will not hear what I’m saying. You will not hear what the other person — Chris Harrison in this instance — was saying. You will only see the reaction and when I saw how that interview was going, I said, ‘I’m just gonna sit back. And I’m just gonna let this man talk.’”

Lindsay added that after the interview, Harrison “had no problems with it” and didn’t offer an apology for his comments or his tone during the chat. “It wasn’t until the backlash came the next day. It wasn’t until people start talking, people start demanding and calling for different things that he does that. He then apologized to me, and then apologized publicly.”

In the moments following, she said he also didn’t check in with her.

“The things that were boiling to me the most were the compassion and the grace and the space that Chris Harrison wanted to give to Rachael but couldn’t give it to this Rachel in the interview,” she said. “[He] couldn’t give it to the people that were offended by the things that she did — where was the compassion for them? Couldn’t give it to them.”

The Bachelor franchise’s Black and Brown contestants deserve some form of reassurance from the show that their offense, annoyance, and disappointment is a valid response to racism.

Even if The Bachelor is only lazily committing to change, it could at least support the Black and Brown people it has tasked with being the face of its performative diversity. Those contestants shouldn’t be forced to watch along in frustration.

Treye Green is a culture writer and founder of the Black In Media community and newsletter. He’s a lover of double denim, R&B, and Janet Damita Jo Jackson.

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