ABOUT DAMN TIME

The First Black ‘Bachelorette’: Rachel Lindsay Breaks a Ridiculous Color Barrier

It took ABC’s hit reality TV series 33 seasons to cast its first black Bachelorette. Please, hold the applause.

Mitch Haaseth/ABC

After 14 years and 33 seasons of white people rubbing their parts together for America’s amusement, The Bachelor franchise finally has a black lead: Rachel Lindsay, who was announced Monday night as the next Bachelorette. It’s 2017, baby! We might have an orange pussy-grabber in the Oval Office and an arguably racist attorney general, but Lindsay, a black lawyer, is about to make a house full of potential boyfriends her bitch.

The Bachelor franchise had been playing a decades-long game of chicken with racial equality—a will-they-or-won’t-they of diverse representation. For all of the franchise’s tanning-bed devotees, diversity on the ABC stalwart often boils down to a rainbow of registered nurse practitioners, unregistered nurse practitioners, and aspiring nurse practitioners. Of course, The Bachelor is a highly inclusive endeavor, with arms wide open to personal trainers from all 50 states, virgins and divorcees, heavily accented contestants, and deeply polarizing assholes. As long as you’re a Size 2 lady or a Grade A beefcake, you can be in the running to take home that Neil Lane diamond. That being said, whiteness has always been an unstated requisite for going all the way. And when the next bachelor or bachelorette is announced, they’re never the token black contestants that were dumped during the previous season. In the history of the franchise, the most diverse bachelor was the American-born Venezuelan Juan Pablo Galavis, and he was a total dick.

The announcement of Rachel Lindsay’s upcoming gig breaks from tradition in more ways than one. Typically, ABC wouldn’t make this revelation while a contestant was still in the running for engagement—by telling us that Lindsay will be the next bachelorette, they’re effectively spoiling their own show. Throughout Nick Viall’s season, fans and avid followers have favored Rachel Lindsay as the next bachelorette. From the premiere episode, when Lindsay scored the first-impression rose, the 31-year-old Texan has wowed audiences with her (relative) maturity and wisdom. She’s beautiful, down to earth, and shockingly employed (unlike most contestants). Even more endearingly, Lindsay seems like the kind of woman who would not be here for Nick Viall’s leather armband-wearing, pseudo-sensitive bullshit. So it’s not a huge surprise to hear that the still-looking-for-love Lindsay didn’t find her happily ever after with Andi and Kaitlyn’s sloppy thirds.

The rumor mill began working in earnest a few weeks ago, when creator Mike Fleiss started tweeting about a “historic” Bachelor happening. On Sunday, Fleiss revealed that the aforementioned historic announcement would be going down on Monday night’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Reality Steve was the first website to report that Kimmel would be sharing the news of Lindsay’s long-awaited casting. LA Times reporter Amy Kaufman also vouched for the announcement, tweeting on Friday that, “I just found out a piece of information that makes me 100% certain that ‪@TheRachLindsay is the next ‘Bachelorette.’”

Fleiss’s breathless social media teases were seriously tone-deaf, given how ridiculous it is that The Bachelorette is just now casting a black lead. For all of his self-congratulatory pomp, you may have thought that Fleiss was about to announce an all-queer season of The Bachelorette. This is the glittery Resist armband of historic announcements—the truly un-radical revelation that you actually don’t need to be a white girl to get engaged on reality TV.

In addition to the simple fact that it’s been over 50 years since the Civil Rights Act, this seems like the perfect time for The Bachelor franchise to fully integrate. After all, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and its drunk cousin Bachelor in Paradise have been slowly and steadily modernizing over the past couple of years. Nick Viall, our current unemployed software engineer turned bachelor, isn’t exactly a cookie cutter contestant. His extreme sensitivity and tendency to weep at the slightest provocation differentiates him from the silent and stoic romantic leads of seasons past. Plus, he wears jewelry and might even have a sense of humor. If Viall is the thinking woman’s bachelor, he’s also the closest we’ve ever come to a professional contestant. After multiple series on the franchise, Nick is highly conscious of, say, what makes a good edit and what will trigger Bachelor Nation backlash. On a not-unrelated note, his season boasts the most diverse pool of Bachelor contestants in franchise history—22 white and eight non-white women. As a point of comparison, previous bachelor Ben Higgins deigned to date five non-white contestants, and Chris Soules’s season featured only one.

There’s an argument to be made that Nick wants to appear enlightened and salvage his historically compromised reputation. That would explain why so many black women have remained in the running this season, despite the fact that Viall doesn’t actually appear to be pursuing a romantic relationship with them. Last week, Jasmine confronted her would-be fiancé, confessing that his complete disinterest in spending one-on-one time with her made her feel unwanted and insecure. Uncomfortable and called-out, Nick politely suggested/ordered her to pack her bags. Loyal viewers will remember a similar interaction earlier in the season between Nick and Dominique. Dominique felt underappreciated and stuck in her own head; Nick felt like he really didn’t need to be talking to Dominique anymore. While drinking unlimited Chardonnay and claiming to fall in love with someone might sound like an easy gig, non-white Bachelor/Bachelorette contestants have historically had a hard go of it. It’s telling that these crises of confidence so consistently afflict contestants of color. Of course these women are in their own heads—their heads are telling them that black women don’t find love on The Bachelor franchise.

The Bachelor/Bachelorette’s whitewashing has been criticized and satirized, most thoroughly by UnREAL, the scripted Lifetime send-up of the dating show phenomenon. On Season 2, UnREAL imagined what it would look like to cast the first “black suitor”—and all of the exploitative clickbait and racial tension that would inevitably follow. Of course, the fact that it only took this Bachelor parody two seasons to make that so-called historic announcement—one that the real franchise had yet to tackle—was truly shameful. In a 2016 interview with The Daily Beast, host Chris Harrison demurred on the topic, saying that questions of diversity were “way above my pay grade.” He added that, “Anyone has the same chance to end up—and I hate to say win because it’s not a game show. It has to do with your connection with somebody. But everybody has a chance to fall in love, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

According to Beyoncé, black girls can increasingly find their own reflections in the news and onscreen. But while this surge in representation has been vital for aspiring actresses and senators, it had yet to reach the little girl who dreams of growing up to find love in a televised reality competition—until now. As America’s very first black Bachelorette, Rachel has a huge amount of responsibility. In addition to finding the love of her life, she’s tasked with proving to the world that black women can serial date just as convincingly as their white counterparts. But as certain as we are that Nick Viall will die alone, we’re confident that Rachel Lindsay will make a lovely, charismatic bachelorette.