I had a lot of feelings about this season of The Bachelorette before it even started, and I considered not watching it in protest of the franchise’s BS decision to have TWO BACHELORETTES—but ultimately I decided that if I was boycotting TV shows because of my politics, I would have stopped watching this horrid show a long time ago. It’s not news that the Bachelor franchise as a whole plays on deeply problematic ideas about gender—the fact that this season the men got to choose which woman they thought made better “wife material” (Kaitlyn, obviously—I’ll put a ring on her finger right now.) is not a line in the sand; it is in fact neither here nor there in relation to the show’s decidedly sexist foundation. Yes I have watched this show for the past thirteen (oh my god how can that number be real) miserable seasons. I have wasted so many hours of my life. And yes I shall continue to waste my life this season. If I believed that being a “bad feminist” was a thing, I might feel like this makes me a bad feminist, but I don’t. I think I’m a decent feminist and also a necessarily flawed human that is vast and containing of multitudes. I sometimes make decisions that don’t always exemplify my political beliefs—I shop at chain stores that no doubt use unethical labor practices, I slather my face with night creams in hope of stopping my inevitable female aging, and I watch The Bachelor. And The Bachelorette.
This past week’s episode was really on point in terms of the show’s heinous politics. The Bachelor franchise has a terrible track record in terms of racial diversity (see host Chris Harrison’s gross comments dismissing allegations that the show is racist here). The past few seasons we’ve seen the show make a minimal, face-value effort to address critiques around this by inviting a handful of people of color into the dating pool. Whether these guys and gals get any substantial air time, or make it past the first several episodes, is another story. But we’ve been seeing some more contestants of color on the show, and with this comes more overt, and not so overt, racism. The all-white or mainly white contestant pools of the past allowed for total erasure of race politics as an issue within the whitewashed alternate reality of the show. With more people of color being cast, white contestants’ privilege to never have to think about race is sometimes challenged, and we get to see how the show frames/addresses race (hint—it is not good).
On Monday’s episode, for example, Kupah—one of a handful of Black contestants in Kaitlyn’s mostly white pool of eligible hotties—confronted Kaitlyn to make sure she feels a “connection” with him and that he’s not just there to fill a minority quota. And doesn’t it just kind of make sense that he’s concerned about that? Why shouldn’t he be able to comment that he worries that, on a historically racist show (and a dating show in which his feelings and vulnerability are at stake), he might be being kept around just as a token minority? Rather than acknowledging the reality that they are on a show that’s been widely criticized for its lack of diversity, Kaitlyn gets defensive.
She tells Kupah that she feels like he hasn’t been paying enough attention to her (she did complain during the Boxing Tournament Group Date from Hell that Kupah wasn’t talking to her much), and she says she doesn’t like being “questioned,” and that she felt a potential connection with him up until that conversation. Kupah says he just wasn’t into the boxing date, and all seems to be okay until he talks loudly about the convo to a bunch of the dudes. Kaitlyn confronts him about it and tells him she thinks he should go home, Kupah pleads to stay (“I think you’re hot,” is what he literally, hilariously says), Kaitlyn isn’t hearing it and she sends him on his way.
So like, this is a reality TV show and people get sent home for weird communication and dumb expressions of their insecurity constantly. I don’t really blame Kaitlyn for sending home whoever she wants for whatevah reason, ‘cause please, it’s the second episode, though it did feel a little weird to me that being questioned about race politics shut Kaitlyn down to Kupah’s potential so quickly… but he also ran his mouth to the other dudes, and I get that Kaitlyn didn’t want to deal with drama so early in the season. What happened next though is the real problem.
In what’s become known ‘round the universe as an “epic meltdown,” Kupah starts arguing with a show producer as he’s being escorted out. He wants to just be on his way, and says things like, “you already know, I’m not part of this thing,” and “I think this process works for some people, like Jared, and Cupcake [two white dudes on the show].” Like, he’s being an aggro bro but I can’t imagine this kind of aggro-bro behavior is that uncommon on this show, and the things he’s saying seem to be addressing the show’s very real race problems. The level of suspicion the outburst raises in Kaitlyn (she looks out the window saying, “if he touches—” and runs outside to intervene)—and the level of “drama” the show allows it to take up (the episode ended on a cliffhanger instead of a Rose Ceremony)—feels wrong. The show chose to frame Kupah’s exit as an “outburst,” and to edit in Kaitlyn’s threatened reaction (we rarely see the Bachelor’s or Bachelorette’s reactions to contestants leaving. Last week, for example when drunk asshole Ryan made incoherent rape threats and grabbed Kaitlyn’s ass, the show included not a peep from Kaitlyn about his leaving.).
Kupah hasn’t been a violent or aggressive guy on the show, and in fact he told Kaitlyn he *wasn’t* so into the violent group boxing date. But when Kaitlyn looks out the window to see Kupah arguing with the producer, she seems sure he’s about to hurt someone. Why are we assuming this guy—whose only questionable behaviors were being shy on a group date and confronting Kaitlyn about his concerns about being a token minority—is violent? Why is he being framed by the show as super-threatening? Why has mainstream media been talking about this without any mention of the show’s historical racism? As we could have probably predicted, it seems like more racial diversity on The Bachelorette and The Bachelor is already just adding to the list of terrible stereotypes that the franchise perpetuates.
Not including people of color on the show is fucked up, but it’s also fucked up to include people of color and then act like they’re crazy when they acknowledge that racism exists. Or when they get rightfully upset about it, which—considering what Kupah said to the producer—I think is clearly part of what was happening. 11th consecutive white Bachelorette Kaitlyn’s potentially racist reaction, the fact that the show’s editors included her reaction, an always-predominantly white contestant pool, and a host that acts like there’s nothing at all wrong with that all add up to make it pretty clear that this situation was more than just the random “meltdown” entirely void of racial implication that it’s being framed as.