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What The Bachelor franchise should do to change its own systemic racism

What The Bachelor franchise should do to change its own systemic racism
Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelor 24's "Women Tell All" episode (Photo by Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Instead of a new season of The Bachelorette, ABC is devoting its Monday nights to a new 10-episode series, The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons — Ever! on Mondays. Each three-hour episode—yes, three hours!—recaps a single season, hosted by Chris Harrison from his house.

A recap show may have once seemed like a cute way to burn through 10 weeks during the summer, but now it just seems like a reminder of the show’s continued failures—and both fans of the show and one of its stars are now calling on ABC and the Bachelor franchise to finally address its systemic racism.

Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelor: Listen To Your Heart week 4.
Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelor: Listen To Your Heart week 4. (Photo by John Fleenor/ABC)

In 40 seasons, the franchise has had one black lead: Rachel Lindsay, The Bachelorette season 13’s star. And the romantic fairy tale the show offered her included casting someone who’d posted racist things online and then manufacturing conflict with him.

Rachel has appeared on both of the franchise’s shows this spring: She appeared on The Bachelor Presents: Listen To Your Heart, and earlier, appeared on the “Women Tell All” reunion during Peter Weber’s season, where she read racist and other horrifying messages she’d received from fans.

“By not talking about it, I think people feel empowered that they can continue to say certain things to us If we’re ever going to fix this problem, we have to acknowledge the problem,” she told Chris Harrison.

That seven-minute segment was a start at having the franchise wrestle with what it has wrought, but became more about bullying and hate than racism, and it certainly didn’t indict the show for its own role in contributing to fans’ reactions toward cast members. And Chris Harrison quickly dropped the subject and moved on.

In a blog post on her website that was published this morning, Rachel wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that if changes are not made on the inside and outside of the franchise, I will dissociate myself from it. I am tired of asking for change and my requests have been ineffective. These changes have to extend beyond casting a lead of color. The whole franchise needs a diversity makeover.”

Rachel Lindsay offers four ways to re-make The Bachelor franchise:

1. Cast leads that are truly interested in dating outside of their race;

2. Stop making excuses for the lack of diversity and take action to rectify the problem;

3. Diversify the producers on the show to make your contestants of color feel more comfortable; and

4. Stop creating problematic story lines for people of color.

Lastly, and maybe the most important action item, the franchise should make a statement acknowledging their systemic racism. The system is not designed for people of color.

The Bachelor Diversity Campaign’s requests—from the show and fans

Chris Harrison, The Bachelor 19, The Women Tell All
Chris Harrison hosting “The Women Tell All” for The Bachelor season 19. (Photo by Michael Yada/ABC)

Also today, the Bachelor Diversity Campaign launched, using the hashtag #BIPOCBachelor.

The campaign has launched a petition on My general thought about online petitions is that they’re essentially meaningless: a way for people to feel like they’ve done something, but that will actually do precisely nothing.

But this petition, A Campaign For Anti-Racism in the Bachelor Franchise, doesn’t just say that the show “should reflect and honor the racial diversity of our country–both in front of and behind the camera,” it offers concrete ways of doing that.

Here are the campaign’s 13th very specific requests:

1.  Cast a Black bachelor as Season 25 lead.

2.  Cast BIPOC for at least 35% of contestants each season hereafter. 

3.  Give equitable screen time to BIPOC contestants.

4.  Actively support BIPOC cast, including providing mental health resources specifically geared to helping them navigate the Bachelor franchise experience as BIPOC.

5. Equitably compensate and hire more BIPOC employees in all parts of production, casting, and filming.

6. Publicly pledge to vet contestants more thoroughly to ensure those who have promoted prejudice (e.g., ableism, racism, sexism, white supremacy, religious intolerance, homophobia, transphobia) are not cast. 

7. Hire a BIPOC diversity consultant to be involved in all parts of production, casting, and filming.

8. Condemn racist abuse directed towards BIPOC contestants and announce a “zero tolerance” policy towards racism on-air.

9. Commit to providing resources to help viewers learn more about BIPOC stories and organizations supporting BIPOC causes. 

10. Feature BIPOC contestants, including their experiences as BIPOC, on the show as storylines. 

11. Ensure that indigenous cultures are not exploited and their portrayal does not perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

12. Pledge to donate to a cause that will help combat racism.

13. Issue a public statement apologizing for enabling systemic racism within the franchise and offer a clear plan for demonstrable anti-racism efforts moving forward.

So many of the suggestions made by the campaign and by Rachel are reasonable and, dare I say it, even easy.

It just takes will; it just takes ABC to be willing to face the ire of its racist fans, and its fans who don’t want to even think about racism. But Hollywood runs on fear, and I can’t imagine they’ll risk alienating a group of fans. The show hasn’t even followed other shows and networks by telling its audience, on social media, that it believes Black Lives Matter.

So ABC and the show’s production studio, Warner Bros., don’t seem willing to even address racism, never mind deal with their own contributions to it.

The petition also asks fans and others who sign to “agree to hold myself, the viewer, to the same standard,” and lists five ways that viewers can do that, including: “Show zero tolerance for racism–online, offline, everywhere” and “Support BIPOC contestants by speaking up when I perceive they are being treated unfairly due to their racial identity by ABC, Warner Bros., fellow cast, or viewers.”

So far, more than 37,000 people have signed. They’re doing more publicly than ABC or the show’s producers have.

What if ABC were to have Chris Harrison spend even just a few minutes one each episode of The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons – Ever! to look critically at that season and the franchise.

What if, in addition to light conversations with former contestants, the show invited some media scholars or critics who’ve written about the show to talk about it?

What if an episode focused on The Bachelorette 13, Rachel Lindsay’s season, and included interviews with the person who cast Lee, and the producers who decided to manufacture a date to force Rachel to dispense with Lee on her own?

What if they talked to producers or editors about how they construct scenes and storylines? What if they admitted some of their own errors, blind spots, and/or racism?

That may too much truth-telling to ask for. But it’s not too late for this summer series, never mind the franchise itself, to turn inward and institute change moving forward. As I wrote in my newsletter last week, Reality TV is part of the problem, and can be part of the solution.

That probably won’t happen; the show doesn’t want to make its own viewers think, and especially not about racism. But if alumni and fans continue to publicly call out and/or abandon the show, maybe The Bachelor and Bachelor Nation will eventually have no choice but to do that, too.

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