The Carleton women’s track team has a tradition of watching the Bachelorette together each spring, and so while I’m somewhat horrified to be spending my time encouraging others to watch the show, I’m going to justify that decision by blogging about this season, which features the first Black bachelorette in the show’s history.
For those not familiar with the show, it features a bachelorette, generally one of the unsuccessful contestants from last season’s Bachelor, and a collection of 30ish bachelors vying for her love. They will gradually be eliminated over the course of the season, after a variety of ludicrously expensive dates (think: helicopter ride over the Swiss Alps) and through a variety of over-dramatic “rose ceremonies.” This year, the bachelorette is a Black attorney from Texas, and the cast of male contestants is also by far the most racially diverse in viewer memory. On the one hand, many of the friends I was watching the show with expressed gratitude for this – it would be concerning if the producers assumed that Rachel was going to be interested in the same cast of primarily white men as white bachelorettes in the past have been, or, for that matter, was going to be interested exclusively in other Black men. However, the show is now going to be forced to have conversations about race and interracial relationships to a degree it has not been before, since few of the bachelors of color usually make it into the later rounds. Indeed, in an interview with Entertainment Today, Rachel said, “I obviously expect to see a wider pool of African-American men just because that’s me, but what I’m excited about is I’m hoping that my cast reflects what America looks like…I don’t [exclusively] date African-American men, I’ve dated all races before, and so I’m hoping the cast reflects what America looks like and I’m excited that my season is hopefully the one that has the opportunity to do that.” Although I don’t want to put the “blame” on Rachel for the structures she is navigating, as I acknowledge that she is probably doing her best to exist within a framework explicitly not designed for her, I believe this quote reflects much of the multicultural rhetoric that will be common in media about the role of race on the show this year. While Rachel addresses the increased presence of African-American men this season, she chalks it up to the unclear statement “because that’s me” and focuses on having a cast that reflects America more broadly, not deconstructing why it is her season that has the responsibility for doing that. In fact, it seems that she’s using the language of multicultural American diversity to justify the increased racial diversity of male contestants this year, as if to take attention away from her “other”-ness.
And again, she’s navigating a structure that was in no way meant to be accommodating to her – as Kathy Davis writes when exploring women’s choices surrounding cosmetic surgery, it is important to understand that women exercise agency in a misogynistic world specifically by acting within systems that oppress them, even if they are acting in ways that arguably reinforce that system. She writes about women’s decisions to have cosmetic surgery because they knew their job prospects would be improved if they were more conventionally attractive, even as they knew that this was unfair. I think Rachel is navigating a similar situation – when one of the contestants made a joke about being ready to “go black” and “never go back,” Rachel said she liked it, and still gave him a rose – but she also reproached him about it somewhat. As Wortham, writing for the New York Times, notes, “Rachel seems to understand that all eyes are on her, to see how she handles these offenses and light racism and the idiocy of the contestants. She seems to know that she has to go high when they go low, lest she fall into the trope of an angry black woman.”
It’s going to be a fascinating season of ample cringe-worthy moments, to say the least – and the rapid increase in commercials featuring Black women and interracial couples during the Bachelorette is already fascinating. If nothing else, I’m certain the ways that Rachel and others (including, apparently, advertisers) navigate these dynamics will say a lot about the multicultural, individual-focused narratives of race currently dominant in neoliberal America.
Davis, Kathy. Rethinking the She-Devil: A Critical Look at Feminist Approaches to Beauty.
Drysdale, Jennifer. “EXCLUSIVE: ‘Bachelorette’ Rachel Lindsay on why she’ll have the ‘race’ discussion on night one.” Entertainment Tonight. May 15, 2017. http://www.etonline.com/tv/217435_exclusive_bachelorette_rachel_lindsay_on_why_she_ll_have_the_race_discussion_on_night_one/
Wortham, Jenna, Jon Caramainica, and Amanda Hess. “Fraught Racial Dynamics in the Bachelorette Premiere.” The New York Times. May 23, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/arts/television/bachelorette-rachel-lindsay-premiere.html?_r=0