Multicultural Heteronormativity

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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.

Image result for rachel lindsay

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.

 

Works Cited:

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

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5 thoughts on “Multicultural Heteronormativity

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  1. hooks writes that Eating the Other “maintains the status quo” when engaging in commodification or discussions of culture (7). In this case, the power structures are maintained because Rachel is reduced to saying “Yeah, I don’t really have a choice in this matter.” I completely agree with this analysis.

    However, I think it’s also important to point out the commodifying parties, of which there are multiple in this instance. Yes, we have the male contestants, but we also have the producers. These producers want to create a show that grants tokenization, not progress, in order to maintain the status quo according to hooks. This goal, which stems from a desire to maintain white innocence, would lead producers to include these awkward moments without discussion. Without discussion, they would be able to keep white America comfortable.

    Finally, there is a very rich discussion to be had here about the exclusion of non-heterosexual identities in the Bachelor and Bachelorette The exclusion of LGBTQA+ identities had become so apparent that a gay male equivalent , called “Finding Prince Charming,” was created. Besides being messy, it didn’t really didn’t go further about issues in the community besides the tokenization of the show. It never discussed the power structures that would cause white gay men or fair skinned PoC to make it to the end.

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  2. I found this post really interesting, especially after our discussion of interracial dating from class. It raises a lot of the issues we discussed like fetishization of women of color (or men of color), racial and cultural differences that could complicate interracial relationships, and standards of beauty that come into play when people cross color lines. I haven’t watched many seasons of the Bachelorette or Bachelor but it has always seemed to me that they include people of color in a “tokenizing” sort of way, seeing as none of them make it very far (or if they do, it seems like more of a producer’s choice than a real choice). And if an interracial marriage did result from the show, I don’t know how supported it would be. I think it would raise concerns about power dynamics and such which often give many people pause when they see interracial couples.

    But actually having a Black Bachelorette for the first time really does provide a curious opportunity for analysis. I think one could interpret this as the majority white media attempting to include race into the discussion more, or one could see it as another attempt on the part of the white media to appear less racist by tokenizing a Black woman. I’m not sure which one it is really, but I do think that having a Black Bachelorette at least gives a different perspective to dating than the rest of the seasons have, and one that IS a bit more reflective of America. It will be interesting to see how much race comes in to play in the show and how much of a dialogue it causes. Ultimately the show could be the beginning of more productive dialogue and/or acceptance of diversity from people who would otherwise not be exposed to these ideas.

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  3. I think you’re a bit more optimistic than me about what this choice to have an African American woman as a black bachelorette will do to create discussions about interracial dating. I think that in a large part of the United States, especially the pockets in which this show is created and the audience this is created for, people genuinely think we are in a “post-racial society,” which I think will lead to the producers and contestants of the show ignoring the challenges and intricacies of interracial dating. Maybe they will have some important moments, but I foresee that for the most part, Rachel will be exoticized, tokenized, and demonized by these men, and everybody will just go along with it because that is how black women are treated in the United States.

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  4. Similarly, I had the same reaction after watching the Bachelorette this past week and had the same questions, what will it mean if a black contestant wins or if a black contestant gets second, will they become the next Bachelor setting off a chain of a more diverse Bachelor series? The show itself navigated the race “issue” with care. One contestant used the line “once you go black, you never go back” where of course everyone in the room cringed, but Rachel did not get angry, she just laughed. However, one thing I noticed is that whether by producers choice or Rachel’s, for her first rose of the night, she chose neither a white or black contestant, rather a Colombian. It was mentioned in the article, but most of the time, people of color are not usually involved in the final rounds of the show and therefore, by choosing a person that is a person of color, but not necessarily her race, it was an interesting way to see the show begin to navigate multiracial couples and what Rachel’s preferences may be.

    Also mentioned in the article, we will see the way the media responds to Rachel and the discussions of race within the show. While the show is cringe worthy, the author put it nicely where “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.”

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  5. Disclaimer: I know very little about the selection process for contestants on either “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” but the idea of this season’s having more men of color because “that’s just me” (according to Rachel) is super interesting. I’d be curious to know if by “that’s just me” Rachel means she was allowed to be a part of the selection process and herself has more of a preference for nonwhite men, or if the show’s creators just assumed she would, being herself a black woman. What would the implications of those reasons be? We saw in the O.K. Cupid data that the site’s white users were the most likely to record a preference for dating within their race; in that case, it makes sense that on seasons with a white bachelor/bachelorette, only a few POC would be included in line with the tokenizing approach of liberal “multiculturalism.” But as far as Rachel being a black woman, what does it mean for the (presumably mostly white) producers of the show to have chosen a significantly more diverse cast of contestants, if that is indeed the case? Did they fear having a mostly white cast as in seasons past would make the positioning of Rachel as an exotic “Other” too obvious? Is it now the case that continuing appearances of multiculturalism and acceptance is just an extension of white comfort, and white audiences would be made uncomfortable if confronted with their own tendency to objectify and other POC? On the other hand, is it racist or perpetuating stereotypes to assume Rachel would naturally be attracted to other POC when she herself says she’s dated men with a variety of skintones?

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