As I watched Nick Viall's season of The Bachelor, I was excited for the possibility that he could end up with a smart, sexy, and funny black woman if he chose Rachel. But, as I watched more, I realized it would be even more exciting if she was given a bigger role and a better chance to shine. So it thrills me to say that Rachel is the 2017 Bachelorette, and the first ever black Bachelorette at that. That means so much to me as a fan of the show, and as a black woman myself.
It’s hard to articulate the disappointment of not seeing black people being considered a viable romantic option year after year on this show. But, it’s not a foreign feeling for me. I felt it all through high school growing up in a predominately white town and having crushes on white boys. I felt it when I’d visit my white boyfriend in college in rural Pennsylvania, getting gawked at in Red Lobster. It’s incredibly frustrating seeing black contestants on the series being peppered in like racial quotas to be met, only to disappear without any real romantic development. When seasons completely devoid of black people aired, it made me think, “Did the Bachelor or Bachelorette straight up request 'No black people?'"
In recent years, ABC executives made it clear they were trying to push the show in the direction of more diverse representation. In January 2016, ABC Entertainment Group’s president Paul Lee told Entertainment Weekly, “We’re doing a whole lot of tweaks. We have ‘The Farm Team,’ right? Which allows us to pick the next one," he said, referring to the group of contestants that have already been on the show and are therefore eligible to be picked to lead a season. "But I’d be very surprised if The Bachelorette in the summer wasn’t diverse. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that, but I think that’s likely to happen.”
JoJo's Bachelorette season did feature several black men, but ultimately none made it very far. Fortunately, Nick's season had the opportunity to expand upon Lee's diversity push next Bachelorette season. Prior to her official confirmation, host Chris Harrison revealed he was so on board for a Rachel Bachelorette season, telling Us Weekly, "Rachel will, if she doesn’t end up with Nick, will be among many that are overqualified to be the Bachelorette … We would be lucky to have her, as we would with several of these women. She’s beautiful, smart, talented."
I have to say, until Nick's season and Rachel's Bachelorette announcement — even though the rest of America and TV had already caught up (see: Unreal and its black Bachelor) — The Bachelor/ette's landscape of Nice White People remained pretty stale. It's insulting to people of color and invalidating to interracial couples to never see those kinds of relationships last on the show or really even be featured at all. Sure, there was the completely-white-passing-save-for-the-"Ees OK" Juan Pablo Galavis of Season 18, but both black women featured on his season were ousted by week five. Galavis also happened to be the worst and the excitement of seeing a Bachelor of color quickly dwindled with each of his antics.
For example, when he was asked about the possibility of a gay or bisexual Bachelor season, he referred to gay people as "more pervert in a sense" and “too hard to watch on TV," according to The Hollywood Reporter. (People reported that Galavis later apologized in a statement on his Facebook page where he claimed that "if you listen to the entire interview, there’s nothing but respect for gay people and their families.") That wasn't Galavis' only gaffe, though. There was also that time he hooked up with Clare and later spurned and shamed her saying, "I have a daughter. I don't want her to see what happened. If she sees it I don't think it would be that nice." So, yeah, Galavis wasn't the best example of diversity on the show — and he was pretty much the last attempt the show really made at diversifying the cast until this season when they chose so many women of color to compete for Nick.
It's super disappointing that it's taken us this long for a black woman to come this far on the series. According to a Fusion piece, Marshana Ritchie of Season 12 was the longest lasting black contestant, making it to the final six. We're now in Season 21, and no one surpassed that pretty dismal record until Rachel did on Nick's season. When watching the Season 21 premiere, I was shocked that the group chosen for Nick was stacked with such beautiful and diverse women of color from a variety of backgrounds. And, I nearly fell off my bed while watching with anticipation as Rachel earned the First Impression Rose. It was the first time a black woman has received it. Ever. Hopefully her Bachelorette announcement is an indication of a shift in the show.
Bachelor alums and fans alike have taken special interest in Rachel, and she's clearly a fan favorite. On the Jan. 31 episode, after the New Orleans episode aired, Rachel's name trended on Twitter while The Bachelor account tweeted sweet GIFs of their date. One tweet (below) even said "by popular demand." All of this highlights how beloved Rachel is by the fanbase of this show. In previous seasons, women or men of color may have been fan favorites, but they were often phased out so early that they didn't have the popularity pull that Rachel clearly has. She was a contender in Nick's eyes — but also in America's — which is why it's so exciting that she'll be leading her own season.
Speaking as a Bachelor superfan, I feel confident that Rachel will indeed make a fantastic Bachelorette. She's smart, outgoing, and playful. She's a lawyer, and we all know the Bachelor franchise loves a spunky lawyer. She’s warm and relatable, explaining during her one-on-one that on the job she “can’t be weak” and that it’s been a long time since she’s “been vulnerable over somebody." And, while other ladies in the house are napping or arguing (OK, while Corinne is either napping or arguing) Rachel is probably doing goofy things like she was when she was dancing with a vacuum cleaner in her intro video. Talk about audience appeal, people — the gal is just likable. But, more than just likable, she's also engaging and funny. When she told Nick about her father and how intimidating he was, it was clear Rachel was having fun with the moment, teasing Nick about how he should never call her father by his first name. I can even picture the Bachelorette dates when her final two men meet her parents, watching her literal judge father judge the guys she brings home.
It will be so impactful to see a black woman in charge of her search for romance, instead of just on the receiving end of someone else's decision. As far as black women in romantic leading roles go, those stats are hard to find. But, they can't possibly be very high. As reported by Variety, The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University studied the 110 top grossing movies of 2015 to find that 76 percent of all female characters were white, while just 13 percent were black. And, that's just female characters in general. Considering that the study found only 22 percent of protagonists are female, that number of black female protagonists (while not included in the study) has to be dismally low if that 76-13 percent ratio holds.
So, considering all that, I love the fact that America has fallen in love with Rachel and that she is getting her own season. I love the fact that this fan base will be forced to reckon with the idea that a black woman wants and deserves love. I want to see a single black woman not be fetishized or demonized or portrayed as desperate or angry, because that’s how we are so often viewed on television. For example, Viola Davis, star of How To Get Away With Murder has lauded the role for giving her character actual complexity, compared to many characters she's been offered in the past. “I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish," she lamented to the New York Times. Black women deserve better than these stereotyped roles — especially in reality TV, if it's supposed to reflect reality at all.
Believe it or not, people are profoundly impacted by what they see on TV. Take the 2014 study from National Bureau of Economic Research that showed a correlation to the airing of the Teen Mom franchise and the rate of teen pregnancy in America dropping. That isn't to say that black women who aren't "successful" don't deserve love either, it's just especially important to show that black women who happen to be lawyers exist, and they are worthy of love too. No more of these characters that Davis described to the NYT as "a lot of lawyers or doctors who have names but absolutely no lives." Representation matters.
We have so much to catch up on when it comes to seeing black people find love on TV, since they've so rarely been the stars of these types of shows. That's why Rachel being the Bachelorette is exactly what people like me needed. She deserves it, fans deserve it, and it was about damn time.