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Even with Matt James and Tayshia Adams, The Bachelor franchise still has a diversity problem

  • James and host Chris Harrison were "wholly unequipped to deal with the substance of the diversity issues that plague the show," Rachelle Hampton says of Monday's Bachelor season premiere. "In the longest conversation on race and racism, James tells Harrison that he feels a lot of pressure as the first Black Bachelor because if he picks a person of a certain race, white people and Black people will be mad at him," says Hampton. "Harrison validates and assuages this fear by telling James that love is love is love and James should feel free to pick whomever he wants. That is, of course, true. But James’ fear inadvertently raises the very issues that led to producers having so few choices for their first Black Bachelor. The only conceivable reason people—Black or white—would be mad at James over his final pick would be if she is white. Racists would object to seeing an interracial couple, while Black viewers might be upset at having to once again see contestants that look like them steadily eliminated in a reflection of centuries worth of implicit messaging that Black women are less than. Leaving aside the fact that these two reactions are nowhere near the same in terms of validity, it’s striking that before we even saw James’ interact with any of his contestants, he was subtly managing expectations for the outcome—a move that didn’t go unnoticed by Black fans who have also speculated that James’ mother voted for Trump and that James himself is a stealth Republican. James already preparing the audience for the likelihood of his choosing a non-Black woman has lasting ramifications for the diversity of the show going forward. Because the upcoming season’s lead is most often picked from the previous season’s final contestants, the racial makeup of that last dating pool has an outsize influence on the future of the show. In the 41 completed seasons of the franchise, only four Black contestants have made it to the final three, all of them very recent." Hampton points out that even a diverse Bachelorette like Tayshia Adams can't fix the show's diversity issues. "In her own season, Adams passed over Ivan Hall, the fourth Black contestant to make it to the final three, for a white contestant that she had already previously eliminated," says Hampton. "This, after she and Hall had one of the most poignant conversations in the show’s history on race and policing and mass incarceration. Hall’s elimination speaks to the same ineradicable problem that James’ casting did and his setting of expectations seems to. Even when the lead isn’t white or when the initial deck of contestants is stacked with nonwhite contestants like both James’ and Adams’ seasons were, the outcome—a final tier of mostly white contestants that gets the most screen time, and from which the next seasons’ lead is presumably chosen—stubbornly remains the same. At this point, that outcome seems nothing less than intentional. The easiest way to change it would be to choose a lead that has an actual demonstrated interest in dating a person of color that goes beyond the initial quotas."

    TOPICS: Matt James, ABC, The Bachelor, Chris Harrison, Tayshia Adams, African Americans and TV, Diversity, Reality TV