Will Rachel Lindsay find true love or will this turn into a test case on reactions to interracial dating in a Trump era? Will this season address race? What will the dialogue be when Rachel Lindsay is brought to meet the parents of a white or non-black contestant? Should we expect to see underlying microaggressions to surface from contestants? Will a dialogue unfold between Black contestants and white contestants on dating a Black woman?
In February, ABC announced Rachel Lindsay, 31, would be the first Black woman to lead the new season of The Bachelorette — the network’s most popular dating series. Fourteen years later from the start of the franchise and after mounting pressure for the show to have more diversity in its contestants, mainstream media is now graced with a Black woman as the Bachelorette and to no surprise, the reactions so far have been a mixed bag of elation, confusion, and hatred to say the least.
For me, the news of a black Bachelorette was cause for celebration. But I immediately felt concerned about whether the show will indirectly address the role race plays in gender and relationship dynamics in today’s dating market. Will watching a Black woman embark on a journey to find love with men of varying races generate conversations about interracial relationships in a constructive manner? Will stereotypes and The Bachelorette’s white standards of beauty give way to bigotry and attacks on Rachel Lindsay’s skin-color and character?
In my search surrounding the many questions, thoughts and responses a black Bachelorette may unearth, I also wondered what her probability of finding love or a healthy relationship would be by the conclusion of the season. What barriers stand in the way of a successful, black woman over 30 being in a committed, healthy relationship that leads to marriage?
Let me begin by admitting that I’m not a big viewer of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette franchise. A show that has been on-air since 2003 with 33 seasons; and in the typical fashion of mainstream American television, a Black contestant has never won or made it close to winning their chance at love with the Bachelor or Bachelorette. It then came as a complete surprise to hear that on Season 21 of The Bachelor that a contestant named Rachel Lindsay was the first Black woman to ever receive the first impression rose in the history of the show.
All I could think in that moment was, she actually had a shot of winning and finding love. And although making it to the final three, Rachel Lindsay was unexpectedly eliminated but not before word spread that she would be tapped as the leading woman in the upcoming season.
Now, I already know what a lot of you are thinking while reading this: why do we always have to bring up race? Race is embedded in the very DNA of our society. When it comes to race, the past is always the present. Even in dialogues such as these on love and romance, race finds its way into the fold because it has everything to do with the power and privileges one brings to the relationship. Although a 2013 Gallup Poll showed 87% of Americans favor marriage between blacks and whites, up from 4% in 1958, we still see interracial relationships in mainstream media continues to spark visceral bigotry.
Race was at the forefront of the last season of The Bachelor with Nick Viall when he was brought to Rachel Lindsay’s home to be introduced to her family. As many can relate with a Black mother, she was the first to address the elephant in the room and asked if Nick had ever dated a Black woman before. Nick tells her mother that this was his first serious relationship with a Black woman and that he has very strong feelings for who she is as a person and not because of her race.
Why do white people cling to this idea of colorblindness? In Michael Eric Dyson’s proclaimed novel, “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America”, Dyson states “one of the greatest privileges of whiteness is not to see color, not to see race, and not to pay a price for ignoring it, expect, of course, when you are called out on it.” Nick Viall’s troubling statement further personified the problem with separating race and love. It’s derived from a fear of acknowledging race and the privilege that comes from ignoring persistent discrimination. But as society has shown, especially now in a Trump-era, discrimination endures, operating through economic, social and institutional practices that seep into the very orifices of a relationship.
In order to unpack Nick Viall’s statement and understand why it was rooted in colorblindness, or as some may perceive it as ignorance, we first have to understand what Nick sees when he looks at Rachel. There is no denying that media shapes our culture, views, and ideologies and for many exposes us to races that we don’t encounter on a daily basis. Although labeled “reality television”, many consume these shows and allow them to become the foundation for their opinions on how groups of people act or look before interacting with them or sometimes without ever interacting with them at all.
Like many black millennials, my introduction to reality television dating shows was with the Vh1 hit show Flavor of Love and I Love New York. At the time of my desire to watch these shows, I never understood how unsettling it was to see the worst stereotypes exploited onto Black women who were contestants vying for love with Hip-Hop rapper Flavor Flav. Labeled as a “modern-day minstrel show”, Flavor of Love portrayed Black women has aggressive, ignorant and promiscuous.
Despite the overwhelmingly false narrative that persists today in many reality television shows that portray Black women as either gold diggers, loud or boujee — Rachel Lindsay is considered different. Not only beautiful and attractive — she is educated and is a civil defense litigation attorney. She scores tens across the board for being an educated, successful Black woman that comes from a middle-class, well-off Black family. Equally as important, during her run as a contestant on The Bachelor her demeanor was described as calm, less attention-seeking, and more confident and charming.
Black bodies in America continue to be marginalized and subjected to negative stereotypes that box us into false narratives, forcibly requiring our bodies to move through these social spaces that put white people at ease. We can all agree that she would not have made it far in the competition, nor considered to be the Bachelorette, if she was intimidating or labeled “ghetto” — chances are she would not even have made it onto the show from the very beginning.
This warped virtual reality where a Black woman is under the gaze of white men, I fear may create spaces where some contestants will perpetuate fascination with being with a Black woman and project false stereotypes on her to further validate how they perceive Black women to be. Despite her appearance and pre-determined characteristics from the past season, Rachel Lindsay will be navigating to try and not fall into the already established stereotypes of Black women being labeled as loose or aggressive.
For Rachel, being placed in the position of desire by men, it may become a steady juggling act of trying to not get boxed in by white contestants who see this as an opportunity to hypersexualize or to indulge in a curiosity with a Black woman. Meanwhile, she is just trying to be herself. This juggling act that Blacks must perform is the makings of double consciousness in a single Black body. Our identities are divided. Rachel will constantly be looking at herself through the eyes of men and how their assumptions may project themselves onto her self-established being. This white gaze is unsettling if it is rooted in destructive stereotypes.
In the end, I’ll be tuning into this season of The Bachelorette and rooting for a Black woman to find love and not be disregarded by men of varying races. Although confined to the structures of The Bachelorette “reality television world”, it will be worthwhile to watch a Black woman being placed in a position of power where she is desired as the one woman with multiple options. Given our society’s “man shortage” putting Black women at a disadvantage of finding a partner, that is equally educated, financially stable and not in a concurrent relationship, watching her find love will be a breath of fresh air.
Rachel Lindsay is given a platform that can either prove to be toxic or generate meaningful conversations on how race coincides with gender and relationship dynamics. Millions of viewers will be watching.
It’s time to brace ourselves for reality.
Updates: The Bachelorette has just released the names of the contestants and their bios for this season. As predicted this will be the most diverse contestant line-up in the history of the franchise. The racial break-down is 11 Blacks, 17 Whites, 1 Latino and 2 Asians…interesting.
Also, Rachel Lindsay has made an announcement that following the conclusion of the season she is now engaged.