How Bachelor Nation Handled its Racial Reckoning in 2021
Upon first glance, many Bachelor Nation fans would say that 2021 was the best year in terms of featuring and supporting Black and NBPOC in the franchise’s history. We began the year with our first Black male lead in Matt James. We had the first Black couple get engaged on Bachelor in Paradise, Maurissa Gunn and Riley Christian, and we had the first ALL BLACK final four on The Bachelorette. We even ended the year with the engagement of Michelle Young and Nate Olukoya. While at first glance this seems like progress, there were several other glaringly problematic moments this year as well.
The very first person shown on our screens in 2021 was Katie Thurston, a “fan favorite” who went on to become the bachelorette over several Black and NBWOC with little to no uproar. The show dually announced her season along with Michelle Young, but the timeline suggests that was not part of the initial plan. Thurston and others somehow twisted her selection into one that highlights progress with a logic that still baffles me. This combined with the comparison of the ratings of the both Bachelorette seasons reveals that many viewers still don’t value Black love stories, even with Michelle and Nayte’s beautiful happy ending.
Despite having the most diverse cast of Bachelor in Paradise in history, white contestants and couples with at least one white partner continue to receive preferential treatment by the show and a higher follower count. Not to mention the show’s most problematic storyline that centered Natasha Parker in a love triangle leaning into the narrative that a beautiful Black woman like Natasha was somehow undesirable or unworthy of a man’s attention.
We could also mention the attacks on the character of many Black men throughout the year. First Reality Steve had a seemingly personal vendetta against Matt James, hosting Instagram lives with women claiming all sorts of things about him. We could also discuss the show’s portrayal of Thomas Jacobs with the help of Thurston, as mentioned earlier. Jacobs was only once again in the public’s good graces after aligning with former Bachelorette Becca Kufrin in Paradise. Finally, Nayte Olukoya’s edit was less than favorable, and many fans and commentators, rushed to judgement about him simply based on his appearance.
However, the burden was again placed on Black women in Bachelor Nation. As mentioned earlier, Bachelor Nation only recently decided that Natasha Parker was worth following after her Paradise storyline. Tayshia also received public scrutiny that many of her white counterparts did not. She went through a public breakup, a health scare, and ran a marathon but was still the topic of many posts filled with vitriol and misogynoir throughout the year. The only women who faced any consequences in Bachelor Nation this year were Pieper James and Taylor Nolan, who both receive to this day outsized criticism for their “crimes.” There is a problematic white fave for every one of their transgressions who continues to have a platform, millions of followers, and underserved opportunities.
Rachel Lindsay’s interview with Chris Harrison is perhaps the biggest scandal of the year. It added to the hate she receives consistently that finally forced her to make an official exit from Bachelor Nation and any of its shows and podcasts. There’s simply no one else who can do what Rachel does, and the show has an irreparable hole left behind. Rachel Lindsay is the only reason that I and so many others began to watch the show in the first place.
Last but not least, the selection of both Katie Thurston and Clayton Echard signaled a return to the Bachelor of the past. While I have been surprised by the outrage at Clayton’s selection, it also saddens me that the same anger was not there when Katie was selected. Any rightful critique of her was seen as “hating” or “bullying,” and she has faced no accountability to this day. Thurston and Echard both fail to realize that accepting the position over the Black and NBPOC on their season is steeped in privilege. The show for years used the rule that Black contestants did not place high enough for viewers to be invested in their story, and when that finally happens this year, the rules change. That doesn’t add up.
I plan to watch Clayton’s season as I watched Katie’s because there are still Black and NBWOC on his season who I am sure will be subjected to microaggressions by both the cast members and the audience. It will also allow me to talk about whiteness because that’s one thing that the show, contestants, content creators, and fans have yet to explore.
The fans don’t follow Black and NBPOC contestants at the same rate. Black and NBPOC content creators do not have their posts, podcasts, and content engaged with at the same rate either. In every space of the show, whiteness continues to dominate the conversation, narrative, and direction. Until we begin to examine how this operates, we’ll continue to have a little bit of progress with the enormous levels of regression like we see today.
Overall, Bachelor Nation has tons of work to do.
PS: I plan to launch paid content in the new year with all of my unfiltered thoughts about the season and more. I hope you’ll join me.