The Race Conversation On ‘The Bachelorette: Men Tell All’ Is Bigger Than Lee
The Bachelorette has a way of making you forget about the early-in-the-season craziness by the time you're watching that final rose get handed out. But during Rachel Lindsay's season, viewers weren't just being asked to forget about "whaboom" and the "tickle monster." As our commitment to Eric, Peter, and Bryan grew, it also seemed the show was asking for Lee to be dismissed. Everything involving Lee on this show has been questionable, from his casting to his edit, but considering all that went down, The Men Tell All handled Lee the best it could. It didn't ask that the situation be forgotten, and it put a conversation on network television that the country needed to hear.
The drama with Lee was mostly presented like any other early-in-the-season drama. Lee was a "villain," and the other men had to battle against him as he threatened their relationships with the Bachelorette. He was given a two-on-one date and an over-the-top montage leading up to it that showed him working out while wearing cowboy boots. But Lee wasn't a normal villain, and if anyone still thought that — DeMario, perhaps? He seemed very shocked by those tweets — they were given a major wake-up call during The Men Tell All.
Viewers can't know how Lee ended up on the show. It's surprising that his Twitter account wouldn't have been thoroughly searched during casting, but Chris Harrison said on Twitter on June 1, "For those asking, no, of course we didn't know about the offensive tweets from Lee's account. None of us were aware of them." (When Bustle reached out about the tweets, ABC and Warner Bros. declined to comment.) And even with Lee being cast before the tweets were discovered, Dean told producers during one episode that Lee seemed to be targeting certain people who were "not the people he's used to seeing from a cultural perspective," and Will talked to Lee about how calling a black man "aggressive" has a deeper meaning (to which Lee questioned if Kenny was someone who was playing the "race card," mind you). So in the way things were presented on the show alone, Lee went beyond being a normal villain into some much darker territory.
It would be a big ask for viewers of this season to just brush off Lee and group him in with the Chads of Bachelorette history. This season featured the first black lead in the franchise ever. While we will remember Rachel and who she ends up choosing as her fiancé first when thinking back on the season, Lee isn't just something that can be wiped away — at least not for this viewer. If Lee had never been brought up again, it would feel like he got away with something. Even if the way we got to this point was questionable, Lee had to be talked about on The Men Tell All, and it was a relief to see that the show went all the way with it.
When I started watching the special, I was concerned that Lee would get off easy. DeMario defended him, saying that the Lee he knew wasn't the Lee everyone else got to know. Then there was a conversation with Kenny, in which he seemed to have mostly moved past the Lee drama and said that when he was interacting with Lee on the show, "it didn't feel like racism." It felt like that was going to be it. Kenny and his daughter would get their trip to Disneyland, and that would be the end of the Lee talk. Thankfully, that wasn't the case.
Lee then made his way to the hot seat, which again worried me at first. Should Lee be getting more screen time? Should he really get his own one-on-one conversation? I thought the answers were obviously "no," but then things took a turn. Chris Harrison posted a few of Lee's offensive tweets on the big screen for all to see, and Lee was forced to answer for himself, not just by the host, but also by multiple men, and later by Rachel.
Seeing black men stand up and tell Lee exactly how they felt about a tweet that compared the NAACP to the KKK was amazing. I — being a black person and, in this case perhaps more importantly, not a racist — knew exactly where they were coming from. But I also knew that there were probably plenty of people watching who would have seen "jokes" like Lee's and not understood why they were wrong or not feared that they would be seen or heard by people who didn't agree with them.
The responses the men had for Lee ran the gamut from holding him accountable for not taking responsibility sooner to making him say exactly what he did wrong to explaining institutional racism (shout-out to Anthony) to asking him why he came on a show to date a black woman. In response, Lee eventually admitted that the tweet was racist. I can't know if he is actually sorry or if he will change, but I do know that a lot of people could learn from a conversation like this, and I'm glad the show gave them the chance to.
Rachel and some of the contestants offered to teach Lee to basically not be racist. Rachel said, "I hope that in watching it back, you realize that you were a part of something so great, but in case you didn't, please know that you could exit stage left and meet me backstage, and I’d be more than happy to give you a black history lesson, a lesson on women’s rights." It's great that so many of them were willing to work with Lee, but that doesn't mean that it should have been expected of them or that it's their responsibility.
But it is the responsibility of a TV show like The Bachelorette that has such a huge viewership to be responsible when handling sensitive issues like race (or sexual consent, as we will see on Bachelor in Paradise). While the way we got to this place with Lee was disconcerting, the way it was handled got an important conversation into the homes of 5.7 million Americans. As a viewer, I won't forget everything else that went on with Lee, but I do appreciate that the show let the other men call him out when he so deserved it. The Bachelorette actually went there and it was about time.