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Thoughts on The Bachelorette

The thirteenth season of ABC’s The Bachelorette matters.  Rachel Lindsay, a 31-year-old attorney, is the first black bachelorette in the show’s history.  It’s bigger than Monday night entertainment.

Black women are one of America’s most maligned cultural groups both inside and outside their own community. It was only six years ago that the editorial team of Psychology Today allowed the publication of an unscientific article stating that black women were objectively less attractive than women all other racial groups, due to higher testosterone.

Who can forget that during her time in the White House, Michelle Obama was the subject of significant criticism and nakedly racial comments about her appearance – including a particularly ugly attack from a West Virginia nonprofit director.

We all know about the ubiquitous words beginning with b and h that rappers reserve largely for women who look like them while praising white or “exotic” woman.  The same physical features, hairstyles and hair texture that are considered “ghetto” on black women suddenly become cool and trendy when appropriated by non-black women.

If this is not enough, there are memes, online articles and even whole YouTube channels dedicated to perpetuating myths about black women as unattractive, unfeminine and indelicate.  We also know that serial abusers of black women are forgiven in the public eye as long as they have talent and money.

Since money talks, the leadership at ABC are no fools. They know with Scandal approaching its final season, that there is an audience for a black woman romantic lead.  Only this time she is not part of a salacious fictional affair, but a professional doing all the choosing. If the mere sight of a beautiful black woman in charge of her love life emboldens a white (or Asian, or Latino) law associate to ask his black woman peer on a date at a professional mixer, it’s a good thing.  We know that the Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise is a reality show.  Reality shows are usually anything but real. This show has been particularly problematic. Until recently, it was a largely white reinforcement of superficial heteronormativity. Perhaps this season will open the doors not only for racial diversity but, sexual orientation and gender identities. For now, let’s just see whom Rachel chooses.

The show alone is not a revolutionary love movement but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

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