I was never really into The Bachelor. Why would I be? The little I had seen, and the multitudes of coverage that I had read, made it clear that the narrative of the show was never concerned with black people finding love in this so-called fairy tale. There had never been a black Bachelor, there had never been a black Bachelorette, and the furthest in the competition a black woman had ever made it was to the final six. That was not a message I was interested in spending 20 seasons absorbing. But then Nick Viall's Bachelor season happened and, on a whim, I decided to tune in to watch the whole thing. And Bachelor contestant Rachel Lindsay made me glad I did from the very first episode. Watching Rachel on the show has felt like watching myself on the show — and not just because we're both black. No, I was lucky enough to start my Bachelor journey with Rachel and to continue it with Rachel as the 2017 Bachelorette, so it feels like her story is also mine.
I've read — and written — the think pieces about how the Bachelor needs to get more diverse. Juan Pablo is the only person of color to ever lead his own season, and he's the kind of man who blamed and slut-shamed a woman on national television for hooking up with him. As the only POC in twenty-one seasons of white men, he's not exactly what I would call stellar representation. But Nick's season started off with an array of women that was more diverse than any I'd ever seen before, so I watched it. And, while watching, I immediately latched on to Rachel Lindsay because she was the one who behaved the way I had always imagined I would behave if I were ever inclined to go on a show like this.
Rachel wasn't about the drama. On the very first night, she declared that her heart was open to the experience, but she wasn't going to rush into falling in love with Nick. She became the first black woman to ever receive the first impression rose, because Nick saw, as I did, that she was taking this process seriously, had a good head on her shoulders, was irreverent, intelligent, and charming, and was, above all, being herself. And the viewers saw that, too.
I grew up watching dating shows like Flavor Of Love, where the seasons were rife with women of color verbally sparring with one another, cursing and screaming at each other, while competing for the love of a man they'd only just met. And I loved that show, and those shows, but I appreciated Rachel for being more like me — calmer, quieter, more observant and less attention-seeking. She was charming and confident where I'm more shy and self-conscious, but she felt, in many ways, like the version of myself I wanted to be.
I appreciated that, even though her next date with Nick wasn't until New Orleans, Rachel spent the interim building friendships with the women instead of picking fights. I appreciated that, even when she wasn't the focus of an episode, you could see her supporting the other women and drawing Nick's attention to her with her personality rather than with any gimmicks. Rachel had a simplistic charisma about her that everyone could see, and that made her solo dates with Nick seem more real and deeper somehow.
Which is exactly how I would hope my time on a dating show would go, that I would be liked and noticed for myself without talking about my platinum vagine, threatening to choke Nick for ignoring me, or criticizing other women for their lack of emotional intelligence.
So you can imagine my joy when Rachel was named the 2017 Bachelorette — which will be the first season of the Bachelorette I've ever seen. To identify so strongly with Rachel, to watch her act the way I would see myself acting and to see her rewarded for being herself by making such a strong impression on Nick, the network, and the viewers that she becomes the first black woman to lead her own Bachelorette season, is incredible. I feel luckier than most black Bachelor fans, who have had to wait 21 Bachelor seasons and 13 Bachelorette seasons to get this same validation.
It gives me confirmation in my own life that being who I am makes me worthy of love, makes me beautiful and desirable enough to gain the affections of multiple men — all at the same time. It gives me hope for future generations of Bachelor fans, who can watch the show knowing it's no longer an impossibility that someone who looks like them can be the lead rather than just the quickly discarded romantic option. It gives me a genuine joy for Rachel to know that, even if her happy ending isn't with Nick, then she gets the opportunity to get one of her own — and I get the opportunity to watch that satisfying moment happen.
And I want to be clear. I'm not patting the show on the back for this one. Bachelor producer Mike Fleiss may have called this a "history-making, historic announcement," but I don't really consider it historic that a show that has been on the air since 2003 — I repeat, for 14 years — has made a black woman the lead for the first time. Fourteen years and 13 Bachelorette seasons in, that's not historic; that's really sad. But I am glad that Rachel is being given her time to shine, and I am especially glad that I made Nick's season of the Bachelor my first season of the Bachelor so that I could watch her journey begin, continue, and end on the note that this isn't actually the end for her.
And, for that reason, I wouldn't have wanted to start my journey with this show any earlier than right now or with any contestant but Rachel Lindsay.