The recent class action lawsuit against ABC and producers of "The Bachelor" franchise alleging the show's producers have consistently discriminated against minorities has some bemoaning the frivolity of protesting racism in a "reality" show when countless other fights are more serious and worthy of Black folks' attention. While Nathaniel Claybrooks’ and Christopher Johnson’s cause may not deserve protests en masse, the lawsuit does make important statements about principles of inclusiveness in America.
The suit demonstrates the choice between rationalizing our small numbers in or our complete absence from past-times like soccer, vegan cooking, E-Harmony ads, NASCAR races and the Oscars with the mantra, "Those things just aren't for us," and demanding that citizens of this country not be required or expected to give up any part of American life. Even the superficial, sexist and trashy parts.
Clearly “The Bachelor” is not a show that has any chance of instilling an ounce of racial pride. Unless the producers continue to opt for the exclusionary route (think Italian Vogue’s Black edition), integrating the show has the potential to offend Black women as they watch fine, single Black men eagerly survey, measure and rate—through embarrassingly sexist and humiliating tasks—several White women who all fit the same Hollywood standard of beauty. It also could play into the hyper-sexualized Black male stereotype.
One can easily see a win as a loss in this case, but I think attorney Cyrus Mehri is right when he asserts that “sending a message of exclusiveness … has a negative effect on this country,” and ABC isn’t the only one sending the message. Resigning ourselves to “that’s not for us,” or creating similar products just for us, has its own detrimental consequences.
“It’s not for us” plays into the narrative that we’re too different. In this nation of immigrants and surviving Native peoples, people of African descent are the anomaly. The other that can’t be understood. The group that forces movie studios to change their marketing plans and causes brands to hire ad agencies that specialize in knowing the minds of ethnic audiences. White America just can’t be expected to get those people.
This is not to say that cultural differences don’t exist between Americans whose ancestors are from different continents and between Americans who have been socialized to be different. It is to say differences don’t justify exclusion and to point out that individuals, not entire racial groups, have distinct preferences. If it were impossible for us to enjoy the same things White people enjoy, then why, when barred from our own inventions that have gone mainstream, from our own ideas whites have stolen, or from the mainstream’s creations, do we create or recreate something similar for ourselves and have great success with it? We are not the mysterious “other” too often repackaged as alien, not human, unrelatable, impossible to sympathize with or feel compassion towards and undeserving of what Whites in America have.
This is also not suggesting that there must be a Black Bachelor or Bachelorette so we have an opportunity to prove our worthiness to Whites. Not only is “The Bachelor” franchise not the place for the model minority moment, but also, there have been more than enough intelligent, good, law-abiding, clean-cut, well-kempt African Americans—including a whole family of them in the White House—to show we’re normal people. And, of course, we don't actually have an obligation to prove our humanity to Whites in the first place.This lawsuit simply speaks to our right to be included. This lawsuit demonstrates our right to fully participate in a society we truly consider our own, a society that, by 2042, won’t even look like what the Bachelor has been peddling for 10 years and 23 seasons. Non-White people are here, we are home and it’s long past time for White Americans to include us.
Part of me wishes Black people, as a collective voice, could say, “The Bachelor just isn’t for us,” that we are above even wanting to be associated with a show that locks women into traditional roles of cattiness and desperation as they compete against one another to a man’s delight. In the Afro-Centric purist’s ideal world, this would be a fantastic way to set us apart from, and above, the “others.” But human beings just aren’t that different from one another. And U.S. citizens should refuse to relinquish any aspect of American life they want to be a part of.
Mariam Williams is an award-winning writer and a contributing columnist to the Courier-Journal. She is the interim program coordinator at the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research and has received grants to pursue writing for social change from The Kentucky Foundation for Women. She blogs at RedboneAfropuff.com.