By Courtney Small
Watching this season of the Bachelorette has been a frequent source of inner turmoil for me. On one hand, it is great seeing an educated and confident African-American woman like Rachel on a reality show in a positive light. She may profess to enjoy watching ratchet tv when at home, but she thankful has no intentions of being part of that canon.
However, as a black male, this season of The Bachelorette has been infuriating to watch. It has inadvertently become a real-life example of the passive liberal racism that Jordan Peele’s Get Out was astutely commenting on. Take the recent episode, for example, that was promoted for two weeks as the one where the men confront the issue of race, specifically how words like “aggressive” are frequently attached to African-American men in a negative light.
Well, it turned out not to be the “woke” episode fans were hoping for. Instead, the show decided to stretch out the racially induced tension for an upcoming two-night event. This tactic seems to be the method of operation for the show this season. Who wants a rose ceremony at the end when you can have a cliffhanger every week? It is getting to the point where I am expecting to see the Lost logo appear after each episode.
Truth be told, it feels as if produces are lost on an island of racial stereotypes, unable to find the progressive show they were touting when Rachel was announced as the bachelorette. While the show has every right to draw out the tension, as drama equals ratings in the world of reality television, by doing so they are allowing damaging stereotypes regarding black masculinity to once again linger in the public consciousness.
Much of the drama so far has centered around this season’s “villain” Lee, a country singer from Nashville who was recently exposed online for making several racist tweets on his Twitter account. Lee is the perfect example of the covert racism that is running rampant right now. In front of Rachel he plays the role of the progressive white male whose only fault is that he is so gosh darn optimistic about the world.
Amongst the men though, he reveals himself to be akin to Shakespeare’s Iago, a cutthroat man who enjoys watching as the verbal poison he inflicts on others take effect. He openly admits on camera that he takes pleasure in sitting back and smiling at the person he has riled up. Knowing that such a condescending action will be taken as a dismissal of the validity of his opponent’s emotions and infuriate them even further. The disturbing part of this strategy is that Lee only employs it on the African-American contestants. He even makes a point to provide affirmation to two other white contestants that he will not give them the same treatment.
It is easy to brush this off by calling Lee a racist, as some have done online, or assume this behavior will all end when Rachel comes to her senses and boots Lee off the show. However, Lee is merely a symptom of a larger problem; one where African-American masculinity is not allowed to exist on the same plane as their non-African-American counterparts.
Take for example the actions of Iggy, the self-proclaimed protector of Rachel’s best interest. Always eager to notify Rachel of any wrongdoings going on in the house, Iggy singles out Eric and Josiah, two African-Americans, as the principle offenders so far. What were their scandalous crimes you ask? Wait for it…being insecure and overconfident respectively.
Once again this establishes an unhealthy trend that the show is more than happy to exploit. The non-black men in the house are free to stir the pot and question the emotions of their African-American housemates. However, when the African-American targets in question get upset and try to defend themselves, they are chastised for “yelling at” and “being aggressive towards” their accusers.
If you follow the live tweets of the show from fans, it is amazing to see the sheer number of people casting condemnation on the men for their yelling and perceived aggression, the latter of which seemingly made some viewers uncomfortable, instead of channeling that energy towards the individuals instigated the response in the first place.
This brings me to the two most unsettling things about this season, the first being the way non-African-American contestants are rewarded for turning a blind-eye to the systemic racism playing out before them. One contestant admits in his confessional that he has noticed Lee targeting a particular “type” of person in the house, but at no point does he step in or notify Rachel of what is going on. Instead he and the rest of the non-African-American contestants take great pride in telling Rachel that they have “stayed out of the drama.”
Amongst all the tweets praising the likes of Dean and Peter for their good looks, no one in the Bachelor Nation fan base seems concerned that neither men or, fill in you favorite non-African-American contestant here, had the stones to step up and defend their peers. Yes, I understand it is a competition, but the competitors are clearly not on a level playing field. Furthermore, these seemingly open-minded men are only willing to embrace equality when it does not put them in uncomfortable situations.
The second disturbing aspect of this season is how the show is edited in a way that makes it seem like Rachel is more likely to believe the information of non-African American contestants. When confronting Kenny for yelling at Lee she asked him if he had “apologized“ to Lee, stating that she already had Lee’s versions of events. At no point did she ask Lee if he issued an apology to Kenny for TWICE interrupting his already brief one-on-one time with Rachel. A few weeks earlier, a confused Rachel told Eric she was considering taking back his rose after hearing reports about his questionable motives. Once again, Eric’s insecurity, a trait most people would have in that situation, was seen as a point of concern.
This ultimately speaks volumes about how black masculinity continues to be maligned in the media. The non-African American contestants have the privilege to show vulnerability (e.g. sharing a touching story of his mother’s passing), are allowed to display insecurity (e.g. admitting to being nervous around Rachel), and can even be aggressive (such as when Rachel gushed over a contestant who took it upon himself to kiss her on the first night, even though she initially didn’t want to kiss anyone right off the bat). However, the African-American’s are not afforded these same luxuries.
Instead, they are told by their peers, and the show at large, that being insecure is a weakness and being confident is to be duplicitous. Most importantly, they are only allowed to defend themselves in a calm and non-threatening manner, regardless of the amount of mud that others may drag their character through.
In restricting the normal facets of masculinity for the black contestants, the show wants to have its cake and eat it too. Essentially it is using longstanding stereotypes (don’t even get me started on untrustworthy DiMario) to generate drama/ratings, while simultaneously claiming, with the selection of Rachel, to be more progressive than the tropes they perpetuate.
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