Questions Swirl Around First Black Bachelorette

March 15, 2017

After reading this, African Americans may want to vote me out of the club; my Bachelor Nation citizenship may be revoked, and even members of my own interracial family might decide not to claim me.  

I’m a loyal viewer of The Bachelor franchise. For me, it’s like watching a modern-day fairytale unfold each season. Beautiful people travel to beautiful locations to compete for true love. There's always a villain who isn’t there to “make friends.” There's always a happy, romantic ending (even though it may unravel after a few months). However, up until now, not a single Black person has experienced said happy ending. Unlike in NCAA basketball, the brothers and sisters have never even made it to the "final four" until this season. Since we've never seen this before (Flavor of Love doesn't count), there are plenty of questions about how ABC will approach what used to be a forbidden union here in America. 

ABC has been under fire to give the Bachelor more color; the network had to call in their legal experts back in 2012 to fight a lawsuit filed by two minority would-be contestants. ABC argued that interracial romance would create too much controversy. Execs feared that viewers weren't ready to see the type of relationship that gave America children like Barack Obama, Halle Berry and Shemar Moore. A judge dismissed the case, but that didn’t make negative chatter about the discrimination drama go away. 

The company has been in this predicament before. Remember the demand for Disney to introduce a Black princess? It finally happened, and Tiana received both cheers and jeers.  A Daily Mail headline said it all: "Disney to Feature its First Black Princess... but Critics Complain as she Falls in Love with a WHITE Prince."

From Tiana's stereotypical name to her job as a chambermaid for a White debutante, the storyline featuring a Black voodoo villain was ripped apart by critics. Even having almighty queen of all media, Oprah Winfrey, voice Tiana's mother couldn't silence the film's detractors. 

From Italians who cringed as Jersey Shore celebrated the "Guido" on MTV to the Persian stereotypes on Bravo's Shahs of Sunset, it's easy to understand why some viewers get so frustrated.  When your religion, ethnic group, nation or even your region of the country are given Hollywood's "reality" treatment, there will be millions of people who watch and form opinions that you won't like. It will be no different for Rachel Lindsay, the "Bachelorette." No matter how sensitively ABC approaches the show, there is no way to please 100% of the African American population.

It starts with the hair. It always starts with the hair. Rachel obviously wears weave, and after it was announced that she’d be the first Black woman to get the Bachelorette franchise tag I took one look at her hairdo and decided it would never do. A self-proclaimed fake hair expert since college, I immediately determined that she needed to see my stylist stat! On several episodes the edges of her natural hair seemed to be at war with her fake hair. When she turned up on the live show I noticed a more polished look, but does she have the skills to maintain it herself for an entire season? Will she have the guts to stand up to producers who want her to frolic with her suitors in fake-hair-unfriendly weather and water? Swim caps aren’t sexy and no way should she be directed to get her hair wet and be forced to continue filming before having several hours to recover. Dates from previous seasons have included splashing in marshes, snorkeling and cliff diving. Nah, that will not work!  Perhaps she'll opt for vacation friendly braids or twists to make life easier and appease the natural hair crowd? Let’s face it, some viewers will probably complain about ABC not picking a Black woman who rocks her natural hair in the first place.

Now to the actual dating process. The historic surprise on After The Final Rose was that Rachel's season was starting ASAP. We got to meet four of the gentlemen who’ll be competing for the Bachelorette’s heart. If you were wondering how the network would racially stack the deck, it was revealed. Two Black men and two White introduced themselves. One announced that once he went Black he wouldn’t "go back.”

Tolerance for over-used and no-longer-entertaining quips about race can be very low; if that’s what we heard in the first five minutes of Rachel’s reign, no doubt at some point we’ll hear a White guy say, “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”

She had a little “Whip Nae Nae” action with one of the Black guys. Will men be dancing for her in a hip hop video challenge? Is that too racist? What about a heated game of Bid Whist, Dominoes or Spades to determine who gets a solo date? Race is going to be an issue that will be closely examined in every single episode. Will ABC pretend that she doesn’t come from a different subculture or will her color be exploited with “fish out of water” scenes where the White guys are forced to learn how to fry chicken and clean chitterlings? Will a White guy try to run his fingers through her hair (gasp)?!? I remember how uncomfortable Nick looked while trying to clap on beat when he visited Rachel’s predominantly Black church in Texas. Surely, the network won’t resist the urge to create more goofy moments like that. We know that the new Bachelorette is “down with the swirl” and that her family is cool with it...after all, when Nick visited her home town we got to meet her White brother-in-law. The big question is, will she keep it 50-50, black/white until the very end or will she be accused of discriminating against chocolate or vanilla dudes?

There will also be a problem if the Black season has a Black villain. There are probably millions of Black men in the US and Canada who’d like to woo a woman on national TV. If they choose one evil Black guy to feature, the network can expect a “blacklash.” If the bad boy happens to be White there will be major shade thrown at Rachel when she keeps him around to keep the show entertaining.

Like any historical first, the Black Bachelorette has her work cut out for her. She has already proven herself to be smart, thoughtful and affectionate. Rachel said she has been overwhelmed by the positive response so far. Maybe that’ll continue when her season officially begins, but I doubt it. Heck, I’m already seeing the potential for disaster, so I’m hoping ABC reassigns a few writers from “Black-ish” to help sort the whole thing out.