Unfortunately, the occasional cringey comment from a white bachelor was not the worst thing Rachel and the black bachelors were forced to smile through. They also had to endure contestant Lee Garrett, an aspiring country star who generated much of the season’s drama and controversy by aggravating the black contestants, especially 35-year old wrestler Kenny King. Unprovoked, Lee tried to sabotage Kenny’s relationship with Rachel multiple times by interrupting their time together and falsely claiming that Kenny is violent. He called him “aggressive,” and when black contestant Will Gaskins attempted to explain how the word evokes a harmful stereotype about black men, Lee ranted about how he’s playing “the race card” and continued to be a jerk until he was finally eliminated from the show in the sixth episode.
Every season of The Bachelorette has to have a tool. I understand and fully support that. The petty antics that ensue as a result of throwing some inflammatory mouth-breather in the midst of serious contenders is a big part of what makes reality television so hilarious and captivating. The problem is that Lee Garrett is not just an inflammatory mouth-breather: he’s also a real-life, actual bigot who’s potentially dangerous to both Rachel and the black bachelors, and watching them be forced to deal with Lee’s racism isn’t entertaining at all. It’s gross. Using racism for ratings is gross. Turmoil on The Bachelorette should stem from the question of who loves the Bachelorette the most or who stole whose protein powder, not serious social issues that affect millions of Americans. The producers of the show should have known better.
A couple of nights ago, I was on a cruise ship with my family, researching for this post on my phone while sipping a cup of black tea (yes, I know it’s nasty, but it was 11pm and it was the only kind they had left) on the Lido Deck. My uncle passed by and asked what I was doing, so I tried to quickly summarize all the problems I saw in the The Bachelorette: the subtly racist remarks by contestants that the producers thought should be included in the show for some reason, the deliberate utilization of racism for viewership, and The Bachelor franchise’s general clumsiness when it comes to the topic of race that doesn’t seem to be getting any better. The only thing my uncle said to me in response was that people of color should just be glad that there’s a black Bachelorette now, and to complain about “little things like that” is “whiney.” Perhaps there is a very, very, very small parcel of truth in this sentiment. Big-picture wise, the casting of a Bachelorette of color is significant, especially if it’s only the beginning of the franchise’s efforts to diversify the show. At the same time, however, it’s not enough to cast protagonists of color: they must also be treated with the same respect as their white counterparts, and that’s not what occurred. The producers of The Bachelorette humiliated and belittled Rachel by turning a large portion of her season into an exploitative race-based feud that was harmless fun for no one but ignorant white viewers, which would have never happened to a white Bachelorette. Rachel, the contestants of color on her season, and any cast members of color on future seasons deserve much better than that.