The 25th season of The Bachelor is what happens when an organization tries really hard to embrace diversity for the purpose of optics but not for the sake of actually being inclusive and empathetic. And ultimately, it ended up screwing over Black women.
I initially had no intention of watching the most recent season of the reality-dating show until my best friend told me it was going to feature its first Black Bachelor. I caught snippets of the season with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, and watched the finale of The Bachelorette Season 16 when Tayshia Adams, who identifies as Black and Latina, took over.
But I hadn’t seen the O.G. version of the show in years—probably since high school. For one, it felt like the same formula over and over again. Then, the spinoff Bachelor in Paradise erased any integrity that the franchise ever had. And more importantly, there just wasn’t any diversity. I felt that if I was on the show—as a Black woman—I would likely slide off into oblivion without being seriously considered. Regardless of how I looked, despite my credentials, and no matter how deep the conversations I may or may not have had with the person were, I figured that I just would not be the type who could make it to the end.
Seeing Matt James as The Bachelor was like an awakening. It was as if the franchise was finally opening itself up to new possibilities—the prospect of being more cultured and diverse. Having a Black man at the center of its flagship series signaled mainstream acceptance that Black love is powerful, and would chip away at the ugly stereotypes about Black family and relationships in the media.
Rather than proving Bachelor Nation’s inclusivity, the season ultimately demonstrated how, in the words of Malcolm X, the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. A season that should have been historic in a positive sense ended up revealing how ass-backwards the franchise truly is.
When the season began, I’d heard rumors about contestant Rachael Kirkconnell having a racist past. There were photos and allegations being made on a number of gossip blogs. However, I tried to stay optimistic. Maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe Matt would not end up choosing her in the end. Maybe… I was being hopeful.
As news officially broke that Rachael had been seen in racist costumes, liking questionable posts on social media, and attended an Antebellum-themed party in 2018, I wasn’t too surprised given my prior suspicions. And then I heard the news that Matt had chosen to give her his final rose.
At that point, I stopped watching The Bachelor. It became a mockery to the women of color who had competed. The Black American mantra “twice as good to get half as far” played in my mind. No matter what the Black women did, how amazing they were, how great and deep the conversations were they had with Matt, it didn’t matter. He still ended up choosing the racist white lady.
Yes, the show is trash for not putting in the work and vetting its contestants the way it should have. There’s no way that Rachael should have participated in Season 25. However, I’m truly appalled with Matt James. This man was supposedly searching for the love of his life. For the duration of the show, he was doing nothing else but dating these women. And during that time, he never had a deep conversation about race and social politics with Rachael? It seems so lazy and hypocritical considering that he’d had those sorts of talks with the women of color on the show, as they bonded over stories of trauma. While those women revealed their scars to Matt, and relived the emotional pain of what it means to be a minority in this country, he never once thought about bringing up his experiences to Rachael—a woman who he chose over dozens of other women. A woman who he contemplated proposing to. A woman with whom he thought about creating a family.
If Rachael’s business did not make the rounds on the internet and become mainstream news, I’m not sure if Matt would have ever found out. Their relationship was not emotionally deep enough for him to ask this woman why she may have been dressed up for an Old South party in a photo. And if he did find out, he may have even stayed if it weren’t for the ensuing public backlash and damage to his ego.
After watching this season of The Bachelor, I was reminded why I tuned out in the first place: there is no space for Black women to be seen as winners in the franchise. Women of color received considerably less air time than white women, and then, all of the finalists who were actually chosen as Matt’s top five were either interracial or Rachael. That paints a clear picture in the context of colorism that a Black woman who doesn’t come from a mixed household is not worthy of winning The Bachelor’s heart. Even Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, was bullied off of social media after having a heated conversation about racism with the show’s host, Chris Harrison, when Rachael Kirkconnell’s photos surfaced.
As the season wore on, it became readily apparent that Black women were just presented as secondary choices—no matter the amount of emotional work that they put in. It played into racist tropes that Black women were unattractive and disregarded, mulatto women were more acceptable but still not ideal, and being a white woman was the true epitome of beauty. Clearly, that corrosive mindset still holds a place in society because The Bachelor showed it in real time.
My hope was that Black women would be seen. We’re only considered beautiful if we’re light enough, our hair is long enough, or we look exotic enough. America still does not seem to accept us for our natural beauty. I trusted that Matt James would be secure enough in his Blackness that he would embrace Black beauty rather than run from it. I wasn’t necessarily confident that he would choose a Black woman to receive his last rose, but I certainly was not expecting for a bona fide racist to win him over.