‘The Bachelor’ Finally Went Black — But Doesn’t Know How to Deal With Race
18 years after its premiere, the reality show finally has a Black man at its center. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
This week, after resisting it for nearly 18 years, I finally watched The Bachelor. And the first four words out of my mouth were “Wait, that’s a dildo!”
On the screen, a White woman waved a lightsaber-style vibrator (censored, of course, given that this is an ABC production) towards a Black man, his face frozen in a nervous smile. And thus began my foray into the bizarro world of the Bachelorverse. Yes, I’m here on CP time — but it’s because they finally gave the CP time.
After approximately 7 million seasons, reality competition The Bachelor has finally cast a Black man, Matt James, as its lead. Which is why a rookie like me had to tune in to see how they would stick the landing in these here racial gymnastics. And no matter what I’d expected, I couldn’t have asked for a more surreal introduction to what is truly a wild-ass show. The first episode of the new season — aka The Bachelor: Noir, aka The B(l)ac(k)helor — was chock full of newish personalities from glammy to scammy, with queens, kings, princesses, CEOs, and a healthy amount of electric dick.
We hardly get a sense of what each woman is actually after, how they might feel about dating a Black person, or if they think about that at all. But it isn’t just the characters themselves telling the stories in reality television — it’s the editors and camera crew.
Before this week, the only thing I knew about The Bachelor was that Flavor of Love was based on its design. Instead of gold clocks, each potential spouse is given a rose to signify that the main person still kinda sees it for you, at least for the next week. Aside from that my knowledge is pretty scant. Apparently there have been many Madisons? And now there are many Laurens? This season there are two Serenas. But beyond a distinct lack of creativity among parents of women who grow up to vie for someone’s affections on camera, I had very little sense of what I’d be walking into.
Luckily, neither did Matt James. After a brief intro, where we learn Matt is a mixed-race real estate worker with an absent Black daddy wound as large as his pectorals, we find him standing outside the Nemacolin resort in bumfuck Pennsylvania, dressed in a custom tux and waiting for 30 women to sweep him off his feet. Before they arrive, show host Chris Harrington notices that Matt is nervous, so as any host worth his salt would do, he takes Matt into a large living room for a fireside chat about the unrealistic expectations of being the first Black Bachelor. James mentions “the pressure he’s placed on himself,” and his worries about a mainstream audience’s reaction no matter who he chooses. “I don’t want to piss off Black people,” he says. “I don’t want to piss off White people.”
Chris looks back at him blankly and answers an answer with a question: “Okay, but have you ever been in love?” It’s almost as if he didn’t hear Matt’s concern — and it perfectly encapsulates the show’s self-congratulation at (finally) having a Black lead without bothering to protect Matt from becoming a flat token.
Granted, absolutely zero percent of the viewing audience should expect Chris Harrington to know anything about double consciousness. (Has he even heard of W.E.B Du Bois?) But there’s something about his expressionless reaction to Matt James soul-searching that’s just delicious.
That first awkward moment out of the way, the ladies begin arriving in style — mostly out of a limo, but a few in more theatrical flavors. Am I wrong here, or do they workshop one-liners on the way to the mansion? One of them tripped, then recovered with “damn, it’s only been five minutes and I’m already trippin’ over you.” Nice one, Johnny Bravo.
Victoria (“like the Queen,” as she’ll definitely be reminding literally every single person on this show) came in being carried on a throne. Down-home Southern belle Khaylah pulled up in an old pickup truck, complete with sweet tea and what I imagine is a very dirty exhaust pipe. We had pizza deliveries, weirdly realistic goat slippers, and Canadian shorties with step stools. Kaili showed up wearing nothing but a bra and panties, opting to have Matt choose which gown she’d wear for the opening ceremonies. It was… a lot.
And then there was Vibrator Katie. The jury is still out on whether the thing was sanitized, but let’s be honest: the young woman had very little else going for her besides that giant schlong. I have a hard time believing she’s the only one who brought a handy helper along — there’s only one bachelor, after all — but none of the other women turned it into their whole personality.
Speaking of personalities, we hardly get a sense of what each woman is actually after, how they might feel about dating a Black person, or if they think about that at all. But it isn’t just the characters themselves telling the stories in reality television — it’s the editors and camera crew. The subtle reactions captured in each moment told us about these women in ways that their speech just couldn’t.
For instance, take Anna, a young White woman whose defining characteristic seems to be “doesn’t want to be chosen last.” She seems sweet — she was actually wearing the exact same dress as another woman during the rose ceremony, elevating awkwardness to high art — but this woman absolutely terrifies me. The moment Matt tells the contestants that he’s mixed, her face brightens all the way up. I’m not saying she has a fetish; I’m just saying she feels like the type of woman who has on at least one occasion said something borderline racist in the bedroom.
As a first timer, I have to admit this shit is a) riveting and b) messy as hell — B probably determines A, to tell you the truth — that’s the magical recipe for reality TV. And although it seems like the stakes might be a touch higher — ABC seems to want us to think so — given the promise of unending racial discourse this season, it’s still all too easy to wrap yourself in the vapidity of it all.
Still, Matt is undoubtedly going to have his hands full this season as he reckons with the all-too-familiar feeling of being the First Black _____ in history. Regardless of whether he believes that pressure comes from outsiders or from within, it’ll be there. But be real: so many White women have already been chosen as the bachelor’s lover, who the hell cares if another one gets chosen? That isn’t to say that there won’t be some catharsis or possibly even celebration if he chooses a Black woman as his wife, but not choosing a Black woman on The Bachelor isn’t about to be proof of dude’s anti-Blackness.
What does matter is that we finally get to see a Black person make a choice like this on screen. And as seems to be the case for wherever we end up, it’s gonna be a shitshow of the most trivial variety. In other words, it’s exactly what we need right now.