From the moment “The Bachelor” producers announced that Matt James would be their first Black lead, long-time “Bachelor” fans knew it was a toss up on how this would go. With a show as historically “white-washed,” as one former casting director put it, as this one, could they really usher the show into a new era of racial reconciliation without screwing something up?
As we quickly saw, the answer to that is: Nope, not at all.
Oh, where do we begin? Here are just a couple ways “The Bachelor” completely failed to fix its lily white reputation.
Not giving its POC contestants screen time
The show actually had its most diverse cast ever with more than half of the contestants being women of color, which looks good on the surface, but it still found a way disproportionately skew the screen time in favor of the white participants.
The instagram account @bachelordata found that for a show where 65% of the contestants were people of color, they only got 46% of the screen time in the first six episodes.
Choosing a “safe” Black Bachelor
Disco Granny 2
As handsome as Matt James is, his casting was a bit haphazard. There’s little evidence James was looking for marriage before being cast in the show, which was announced under pressure from fans during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Instead, it seems clear that James was chosen because of his relationship to former “Bachelorette” fan favorites Tyler Cameron and Hannah Brown, and because producers needed someone—fast. His casting really felt as though he was chosen to tick a box and not necessarily because he was truly the right person for this historic role.
Casting Rachael Kirkconnell
This one was a major eye roll-inducing flub to those of us who watch the show or just live for the Twitter discourse. “Bachelor” contestant Rachael Kirkconnell (who is one of James’ two finalists) got considerable heat after photos of her attending an Old South antebellum party surfaced online. “Antebellum,” as in the time before the Civil War when Black people had no rights and were enslaved. Yes, she attended a party that glamorized that period.
If social media users can track down the past of a girl who appears to be very online, how did this slip through a background check from seasoned show producers?
One TikTok user even had receipts showing that Kirkconnell had liked social media posts with Confederate flags and other displays of racial insensitivity.
Having a host with such a narrow view of racism
“Bachelor” host Chris Harrison is as much a recognizable part of the show as the rose ceremony, and as an executive producer he’s much more than just the guy who hands out date cards. So his narrow-minded view of racism matters. After Rachael Kirkconnell’s racist social media posts came to light, Harrison defended her and condemned people for rushing to judgment over the social media controversy. Harrison showed a complete lack of understanding for the harm Kirkconnell’s actions or his own defense of them caused. He even went as far as to question whether attending an antebellum party was simply not a “good look” through the lens of 2021, and was more acceptable in 2018.
For those wondering, racism is the same now as it was in 2018.
Exploiting Matt James’ confrontation with his father
One of the most uncomfortable moments of the season was Matt James’ conversation with his father, who hadn’t been present for much of his life.
A common stereotype of the Black community is the absence of fathers. In reality, there are many present Black fathers, and those who aren’t are often victim to disproportionate rates of incarceration compared to white men. Showcasing this stereotype for TV drama felt tone deaf at best and exploitative at worst. It left more than a few Black fans wondering: Why can’t the show have a Black Bachelor without putting hurtful stereotypes on display in the process?
Even the Bachelor himself recognized the dangers of broadcasting the scene “without context,” taking to Twitter to ask the audience to “watch that conversation with nuance, care, and also an understanding that there are real systemic issues at play.”
“I just wanted to say that too often, we see dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media,” he wrote. “And they have consequences when presented without context.”
The show has taken some belated steps toward rectifying at least some of its transgressions by sidelining Chris Harrison, at least temporarily, and bringing on Emmanuel Acho, creator of the video series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” to host the season's live finale post-show. And former Bachelorettes Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe are taking over for Harrison as hosts of the next season of “The Bachelorette.”