After 15 years and 33 seasons, "The Bachelor" franchise has finally cast a Black Bachelorette. Rachel Lindsay, a 31-year-old lawyer from Texas, will anchor the 13th season of the hit reality show. Series creator Mike Fleiss teased the "historic" announcement on Twitter and host Chris Harrison revealed the news on a February 13 episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
In subsequent days, there's been a rush to divorce "The Bachelor" series from its troubling history of racial exclusion. However, inclusion isn't achieved overnight. There is no magical eraser that separates the show's history from its current attempt to diversify its dating pool.
In fact, some media critics, like Jennifer Pozner, author of "Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV," believe the show's past missteps should inform how it moves forward with a Black bachelorette.
Prior to casting Lindsay, the franchise had only chosen one Bachelor of color.
Juan Pablo Galavis became the first Latino Bachelor in 2014. The Venezuelan-American soccer player wasn't a fan favorite: After referring to gay men as "perverts," he became a polarizing figure within Bachelor nation. Beyond that, Galavis' lighter skin and blonde hair didn't differ much from his white predecessors.
Pozner told Revelist that producers chose Galavis because of his proximity to whiteness.
"The only Bachelor that has been a man of color was the 'safest choice' Fleiss could've made. In all of the print ads, Juan Carlos did not look Latino," she said. "He looked like he could pass for white."
As she detailed in a 2010 blog post, the producers choose Bachelors who won't increase the stakes for their advertisers.
"It wouldn't hurt to remember that the show is carefully crafted to reinforce advertisers' biases, not to reflect the realities of Americans' true desires, lifestyles, or beliefs," she wrote.
The franchise's creator saw it differently. In a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Fleiss said that "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" consistently aim to "cast for ethnic diversity."
"We always want to cast for ethnic diversity," he said. "It's just that for whatever reason, they don't come forward. I wish they would."
Yet, Black contestants were routinely overlooked when they attempted to audition for either show.
In April 2012, two Black men, Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, filed a class-action federal lawsuit against ABC, Fleiss, and the show's production companies. In the now-dismissed case, the men alleged that these entities "knowingly, intentionally, and as a matter of corporate policy refused to cast people of color in the role of 'The Bachelor' and 'The Bachelorette.'"
In doing so, the men claimed the show had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
Although a Tennessee court dismissed their case, it put additional pressure on the show to diversify. That might explain why there were six women of color cast for "The Bachelor's" 2013 season.
The power of outside influence is exactly why Pozner isn't celebrating Lindsay being chosen as the Bachelorette:
"They finally cast somebody to 'diversify' their franchise and with the power of public relations, make themselves seem like a progressive series. It's a mistake to buy into it. Is it good on a basic equity level that finally one of their stars is Black? Well sure, it's good on a equity level where if you go into a casting call, at least there’s now this 1% chance that next time, if you're a woman of color, you won't be immediately sent away. But that's not the same as empowerment. It's not the same as diversity. This is the epitome of tokenism."
The franchise's reliance on tokenism has plagued both shows since their inception.
In total, 36 Black contestants have competed on "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," according to Fusion. Of those 36, most were eliminated within the first four episodes. In fact, Lindsay is the first Black contestant to get past the sixth round.
Selecting one Black woman isn't racial inclusion, according to Pozner.
"Don't applaud that without recognizing that this is a wrong that they've perpetuated over and over for two decades, and now they're trying to take steps to finally, temporarily, rectify that wrong," Pozner said. "They're temporarily trying to rectify a wrong that they intentionally perpetuated — and were sued for — over 15 years."
The possible motivation for diversifying "The Bachelorette" is also worth considering.
The January 2 premiere of "The Bachelor" scored 6.5 million viewers. This is 1 million less viewers than the 2016 premiere and 2 million less viewers than the 2015 premiere, according to TV By The Numbers.
"They want to breathe some sort of shock value into the franchise," Pozner explained. "They want people to fall for the marketing trick [and] get people talking about the show again in a big ratings kind of way."
Dr. Rachel E. Dubrofsky, a professor in communication at the University of South Florida, has a similar inkling.
"I think the TV landscape has changed with the success of the Shonda Rhimes lineup on ABC on Thursday nights, which puts Black women in the lead on shows that are a ratings success," she told Revelist. "I also cynically wonder if this is one of the latest gimmicks to keep things interesting — being on the air for so long now, every season tries to mix things up slightly to keep things new. A Black star might just be the new spice-du-jour."
The Peabody-winning Lifetime series "UnREAL" might also be a factor in "The Bachelorette's" sudden investment in racial inclusivity.
"UnREAL" follows producers and cast-members on "Everlasting," a satirical spoof of "The Bachelor." Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the show's co-creator and executive producer, worked as a producer on "The Bachelor" for nine seasons.
She told Deadline in April 2016 that working on the show taught her how to be a "a mastermind at manipulating and destroying women." It also inspired the shenanigans of "UnREAL," which did something "The Bachelor" had never done: cast a Black man as the lead in "Everlasting."
Pozner believes "UnREAL" greatly inspired Fleiss' decision to cast Lindsay.
"'Unreal' has done an incredible job of satire based entirely on what 'The Bachelor' has culturally done," she said. "'Unreal' is a thorn in their side. A scripted show on air for two seasons [cast a Black Bachelor] and 'The Bachelor' and 'The Bachelorette' have gone 15 years without one."
Despite "The Bachelor" franchise's flaws, there's a possibility that casting Lindsay may do something extraordinary for Black women: It will show a Black woman (hopefully) falling in love.
Black women are rarely, if ever, in ownership of their sexuality on television, as Bustle's entertainment editor Kadeen Griffiths wrote in an essay. Lindsay will get to publicly navigate relationships without being sexualized, unless it's on her own terms.
"She will have an entire season devoted to finding love, an entire season devoted to over 20 men of various races angling for her heart, an entire season devoted to painting her as an earnest, open woman who is ready to settle down with one very special guy if he can prove to her that he is the one for her above the 19+ other guys that she's dating," she wrote.
However, in order to achieve that, "The Bachelorette" will have to veer away from stereotypes that have plagued the franchise — and all of reality TV — for a long time.
"It is so blatantly gross and racist how reality show producers and networks have treated Black women," Pozner said. "Reality TV producers have revived minstrel-era stereotypes about Black women and done so in an insidious attempt to convince viewers that this isn’t scripted fiction or a scripted stereotype; it's just who Black women really are."
To achieve this, Black women on reality TV have been edited to appear angry, loud, bitchy, and irrational, according to Dubrofsky, who wrote a book about the franchise:
"Reality TV has what I term a 'call to the real': since it is created from footage of real people doing real things, creators can say that they are presenting the audience with what was caught on camera, which elides all the hours of work that goes into curating that footage in very particular ways. This has implications. For instance, if we see a racialized stereotype in a scripted series, we can call out the producers, the writers, the makers of the show for creating this character. But, when it comes to this same situation on a reality show, the makers of the show are easily let off the hook since they can say: we are only showing you what the person actually did, which we happened to catch on camera. We didn't make this person behave in this way, she did it on her own, of her own free will."
These stereotypes about Black women have oppressive histories that appear across media, but especially on reality TV.
"[The angry Black woman stereotype] has marred depictions of most Black women in reality TV, starting with the era of Omarosa on 'The Apprentice' and from the very first couple of seasons of 'America’s Next Top Model,'" Pozner said. "You might as well have subtitled 'I Love New York,' the life and times of the angry Black woman on vh1."
"The Bachelorette" has the opportunity to do something revolutionary, but if it will be achieved relies on how the show approaches its first Black lead. For instance, it's still to be seen who will be cast as Lindsay's suitors.
"My guess is that the framework will assume a postracial ethos where race does not matter, and likely assume a Black woman can as easily date a white man, a man of color, or a Black man, as if race is non-existent," Dubrofsky said. "This does not effectively address issues of diversity and the real, lived ways in which people are impacted by racial difference and the important implications."
The way "The Bachelorette" frames interracial dating will also be a factor.
"They need to portray interracial dating as just a thing that happens, not the most unusual, most noteworthy [part of the show]," Pozner said. "In order to change 'The Bachelorette' and stop doing harm on gender- and race-based level, they need to really normalize, as opposed to calling unusual attention, to the very concept of interracial dating, which American people, accept at a large percentage."
Most of all, "The Bachelorette" needs to show a Black woman without the stereotypical subtext that typically accompanies reality shows. As Pozner said, Lindsay is not an "exceptional Black woman" because she's smart, beautiful, and kind.
No matter the anticipation or fears, Rachel Lindsay is coming to primetime. For the first time on reality TV, a Black woman will be at the center of a reality dating show where long-term partnership is the goal.
Now, it's up to ABC and Mike Fleiss to do her justice.