THE FINAL ROSE
Can a Black Woman Win ‘The Bachelor’?
War veteran Jubilee Sharpe is the frontrunner in this season of The Bachelor. Three ex-contestants weigh in on her chances and what it’s like to be a woman of color on the show.
When Bachelor contestant Jubilee Sharpe worried on last week’s Martin Luther King Day episode that Ben Higgins “has a type and it’s not me at all,” she might as well have just called out the network. On a show with a notorious penchant for one kind of woman—in a nutshell: young, blond, demure, and almost always white—Jubilee stands out. Black, Haitian-born, Jubilee is a war veteran. She’s socially awkward and obsessed with hot dogs. She refuses to attend a mean-girl meeting where she is the intended target. And she has a backstory so tragic—she’s the only surviving member of her family—that only Emily Maynard’s could rival it.
Jubilee is such an anomaly that one of the four Laurens competing for the bachelor’s love laments, “Ben wants to have a wife that will be friends with all the other soccer moms.” Jubilee, the blonde had concluded, is not that kind of girl. Twitter erupted with charges of microaggressions and low-key racism.
But Ben certainly seems to like her. By giving Jubilee a rose, Ben elevated her beyond the other black women who usually appear on the show, who are most often eliminated before a one-on-one date, often before we can even remember their names.
The rise of weird, tough Jubilee, arguably the most authentic contestant to subject herself to the Bachelor treatment, made me wonder if she could actually win. Even better—when fans have been lobbying for a more diverse cast—could she be the next Bachelorette?
Who better to ask than the women in whose footsteps Jubilee now treads? I talked to three black women who appeared on The Bachelor about their experiences on the show to find out what they thought of Jubilee’s chances. Spoiler: They’re not so good.
Their responses have been edited for space and clarity.
Marshana RitchieSeason 12, Bachelor Matt Grant
What was The Bachelor like for you?
It was good. The Bachelor, the producers on the show, and everyone behind the scenes were amazing. As were some of the girls in the house. On the flip side, the majority of the girls really got under my skin for saying racially motivated things. For example, one thing that didn’t make it on air: One of the girls asked me, “Do you even know who your father is?” It blew my mind. My parents have been married for 42 years. What do you mean? Because I’m black and from the inner city, you assume I’m from a single-parent household? Another girl who I can’t stand to this day, said, “You don’t know about how rich people live.” She assumed because I’m black and from the inner city that I’m poor and uneducated and have illegitimate children.
There were so many things they assumed about me. And didn’t even realize how unnerving and upsetting that was.
You were the only black woman on your season. How did you handle that?
It was really hard being on the show knowing I was the only woman of color. You feel like you have this pressure, that you have to be on your Ps and Qs. It was cumbersome. It was really cumbersome. I didn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes of what people think black women are. I also didn’t want to come across as someone who was portraying herself as the exception and not the rule. Because being black and from a good family and being college-educated or a veteran like Jubilee is not the exception. That is the norm. I believe that is the story of most of us, but because that story is not told, we can come across like we’re trying to be the exception.
Any advice for Jubilee or a woman of color going on The Bachelor?
When I finally lost my cool on the show, when I had absolutely had it and flipped my wig, and went off on all of these girls, that was the moment I was so nervous about. I came home and I was so worried and I lamented over it.
But when I finally let go of that burden of feeling like I had to be perfect and I said what was on my mind and I let it be told, it worked out in my favor. Looking back now, I almost wish that I hadn’t held my tongue as many times as I did. The one time I lost it was absolutely worth it.
To Jubilee: You just have to be yourself. You don’t have to carry the torch. You do not represent every single black woman in America. You represent yourself and you represent yourself very well. She is accomplished, well-spoken, beautiful, gorgeous. She has every right to be there like everyone else. I want her to go farther on the show than I did. I made it to the final six. And I’m #TeamJubilee all the way.
Robyn HowardSeason 17, Bachelor Sean Lowe
What was The Bachelor like for you?
It was strange to me that Sean’s season was the first to have so many different cultures. When I first got on the show I thought it would be fun, but I’d leave within the first couple of episodes because that’s just the trend. So I asked him about it and I truly believe Sean just didn’t have a specific type.
I never felt pressured to act a certain way, but part of that may have been my upbringing. I grew up with all white people until I moved to Tennessee. I did feel a tiny bit at one point that I was kept on longer to show that The Bachelor wasn’t getting rid of black people on purpose.
What do you think about Jubilee?
I thought Jubilee would be gone by now. She’s is so opposite from the other girls that it freaks them out. I remember feeling that way. Sean would pick certain girls that were not like me and I’d think, “If Sean likes that type, surely he’ll get rid of me soon.” And I think that’s what’s happening in the house. Because Jubilee, even in Bachelor history, there’s been no one like her. Jubilee’s intelligent, yes, and well-spoken, yes, but you can tell she didn’t grow up in a white neighborhood. You can tell that she is, I mean, she’s black. She’s urban. And it’s so different from The Bachelor mold. And look at Ben. He’s so white.
Do I think she’ll make it to the end? I don’t. Do I think she’ll be the next Bachelorette? I don’t. I don’t think it has to do with the race thing. It depends on how far she makes it and how the fans respond. I don’t personally see it [happening].
Were you surprised that producers chose to keep in the “soccer mom” comment and the attacks from other women?
Those comments were pure jealousy and I’m glad they said it on national TV. It made them all look stupid. It is weird that producers left it in, but at the same time, now Jubilee gets a rose, she continues on for some time, ABC makes it seem like they like bringing black people on and after that comment we want to keep them in. It’s almost like they’re playing it for their advantage.
Are any of the producers black?
No. No they aren’t.
How should ABC solve The Bachelor’s diversity problem?
The fact that a black person hasn’t moved up to be the Bachelor or the Bachelorette isn’t ABC’s fault. It’s always someone from the top three that becomes the next one. Marquel [a former Bachelorette contestant] would have been the perfect “in” for The Bachelor. He totally fits The Bachelor mold. But had they chosen him, he would have for sure chosen a white girl and everyone would have gone ballistic on poor Marquel. Guaranteed, his top three girls would all be white and then they’d have to pick the next Bachelorette from those three. Then ABC would have done its job by picking a black person once. I mean, come on. We’re not gonna win this. Not just black people, but also everyone who cares about the race issue. We’re not gonna win this.
Leslie HughesSeason 17, Bachelor Sean Lowe
What was The Bachelor like for you?
When I got cast, I was super excited. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m gonna be the ethnic person!” and when I got there, there were so many of us. But being the token black person never even crossed my mind. I was just super excited to be the one who would stand out.
Did the soccer mom and Queen bee comments feel like low-key racism?
They didn’t strike me as being racist. But I’ve been in the house. And those comments could have been taken from so many other situations and just placed there by producers. There is so much editing. People think that from watching the whole one-hour episode that everything goes in order. But sometimes the one-on-one crying could have been four days prior but they need the drama at that moment otherwise it’d be boring.
Could Jubilee win?
No, unfortunately I don’t think so. I love how she and Ben connect, but I just don’t see her going to even the final four.
Could she be the next Bachelorette?
People have already fallen in love with her and she’s got a good back story that’s touching and real. She’s a strong woman who has had to fight for everything she’s ever gotten. That’s inspiring to people who watch. So if ABC is going to make a change, Jubilee would be the one to do it with.
And ABC has so many ethnic shows, and shows with so many ethnic people. Why not take one of the number one ABC shows and make it more diverse? [Bachelor creator] Mike Fleiss said recently that the next Bachelorette would add diversity. I was like, “Hello, I’m still single!”