Don't Settle For Crumbs
The Bachelor & Performative Activism
ABC’s widely successful dating show The Bachelor announced this morning that it has selected Matt James as their first Black bachelor in its 24 season run. This is right on the heels of a cultural shift after the murder of George Floyd by the hands of Minneapolis Police that sparked global Black Lives Matter protests. Some would say this is progress for the ABC franchise, but color me unimpressed.
The weeks following George Floyd’s death has been a series of highs and lows for Black people. We aren’t strangers to state sanctioned murders caught on film that circulate the internet and the collective pain that results in protests and sometimes policy change. However, there is something different about what we are currently experiencing. The protests are going into its third week, they are more diverse and sometimes majority white, the frustration has spread globally, and different industries has taken notice. Many have issued statements of solidarity for Black Lives Matter and made paltry demonstrations to the movement, when in reality these industries have always aligned themselves with white supremacy.
I’ve never watched The Bachelor. Something about model-esque women sharing one man until there was only one woman standing felt like Big Love meets The Hunger Games. The final pairing would then get engaged and presumably live happily ever after; something that a small percentage actually accomplished. So ultimately it’s a 15 minute fame grab that promotes gender norms and heteronormative dating. On top of that the casts have been overwhelmingly white and by white I mean wonder bread and mayonnaise sandwich kind of white.
The Bachelor has known about its race problem for a while. In April 2012, the franchise faced a class-action suit stating that the majority white casting was a violation of civil rights law. The lawsuit was dismissed on the basis of The First Amendment, essentially saying that the show had the creative right to exclude people of color. The Bachelor franchise as well as ABC have shown that they are willfully complacent in white supremacy so much so, that they would go to court to defend it.
After the lawsuit, The Bachelor increased their diversity and cast Rachel Lindsey, the first black Bachelorette in 2017. That season experienced a dip in ratings. The show's creator Mike Fleiss acknowledged that the poor ratings during Lindsay’s season revealed, ”something about our fans” that was “incredibly disturbing in a Trumpish kind of way.” Instead of leaning into more diverse casting, viewers have not seen a lead of color since Lindsay. The Bachelor franchise doubled down on their winning formula revealing that the bottom line is more important than diversity and inclusion.
The solidarity for Black Lives Matter has been performative at best and Black employees, artists, and influencers, particularly in media, have been calling out the industry. Editors at Refinery29 and Bon Appetit have stepped down after employees exposed the publications for establishing a toxic work environment and pay disparity between black and white employees. In essence, we are witnessing David take out Goliath with a tweet.
This week Anna Wintour released a mea culpa to Vogue staff stating that, “ Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate or give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators.” Wintour, editor-in-chief of the biggest most influential fashion magazine in the world, artistic director to Conde Nast, the largest global media group. Wintour, who inspired the ice queen in The Devil Wears Prada, who has the power to veto Madonna’s choice of attire at the Met Gala. If Wintour couldn’t find enough ways to elevate black voices it's because she chose not to. These industries that feign support for Black lives never lacked knowledge or the resources to back up their claims. At this point their rallying cry on behalf of Black lives are empty gestures at best.
But Eunice, isn’t all of this progress? Yes and I’m not opposed to the progress, but I question the validity of it. When the news cycle changes, will there still be a commitment to Black lives? Black people are tired of being second class citizens, tired of being fed empty promises, and tired of mourning black life. With this movement, Black people are tapping into our collective power and we’re not settling for crumbs. If these industries truly care about Black lives, show us the receipts. What is the make up of your executive board, what are your hiring practices, who are your political alliances. That says more about the worth of Black lives than a black square in your Instagram feed.
In the case of The Bachelor, I'd like to see a diverse group of women for The Bachelor to choose from. I'd like to see future Bachelor and Bachelorettes who truly represent our country. I'd like to see the franchise and ABC protect contestants of color when the trolls attack. I'm a cynic and honestly I'll never watch The Bachelor even if things improve, but when the world is collectively screaming that my life and the lives of people I love actually matter, I'd like to believe it.