Rachel Lindsay Has a Powerful Message. Is Bachelor Nation Listening?

·8 min read
Craig Sjodin/Getty
Craig Sjodin/Getty

Rachel Lindsay is getting candid about her time with The Bachelor.

Just weeks after Chris Harrison made off with a reported eight-figure golden parachute, the first Black Bachelorette has published a broad and damning account of her experience with the franchise for New York magazine—outlining in devastating detail the difficulties she was forced to confront, and the degree to which producers abandoned her to navigate them alone.

Lindsay’s essay dissects Bachelor Nation’s ongoing struggle with race in great detail; she illustrates not only the way Harrison and producers’ decisions contribute to the issue, but also the broader, systemic forces that perpetuate it. But perhaps most importantly, her account also highlights the degree to which The Bachelor has inculcated a toxic fandom—one that lashes out and isolates anyone who speaks out for necessary change. It’s a point that should concern not only the show’s producers, but also its fans. (Regardless of how earnest or ironic their interest in this champagne-soaked TV world might be.)

“Every time I spoke out about the latest bullshit, producers would get in touch and say, ‘We understand your frustration. We’re trying to do better,’” Lindsay wrote. “But nothing would happen. I realized nobody but me was going to say anything. And I knew I could say these things with no repercussions—because what are you going to do to your first and only Black lady?”

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Lindsay writes that she joined Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor at the urging of two white co-workers. She wasn’t familiar with the show at the time—beyond the fact that Black contestants never made it far—but her colleagues had convinced her that she would do well. After earning a spot as a contestant, Lindsay began watching Ben Higgins’ season of The Bachelor. She recalls that she began to cry; she didn’t like the way some of the women treated Black contestant Jubilee Sharpe, and worried that the show’s goofy antics would make her a laughingstock. But she’d already signed a contract.

Lindsay describes her experience with even-handed remove. She dishes on juicy details like the literal cracked foundations of Bachelor Mansion (“Appliances don’t work; the backyard is not complete”) and details multiple instances of producer manipulation, but also notes the instances in which producers protected her by keeping certain embarrassing moments from airing. Still, it’s hard to ignore that many of the incidents producers “protected” Lindsay from (like airing footage of her being accused of bullying in a staged conversation, or of her being drunk and upset in a bathroom) are direct results of the show’s manipulative production environment.

Before she agreed to become Bachelor Nation’s first Black lead, Lindsay writes that she expressed her concerns to producers: “I talked about the fact that there were no Black people behind the camera and how I wanted that to change. I wanted them to come to me if they didn’t understand something. I wanted a diverse season. I wanted it to be Black in every way.”

The show seemed eager to follow Lindsay’s lead on race, so she said yes. But as other contestants of color had already discovered before Lindsay and Matt James would learn years later as the first Black Bachelor, that promise was easier for producers to make than to keep.

Consider Lindsay Smith, who joined The Bachelor Season 10 in 2006 after producers assured her she would not be the only Black woman—only to find herself in that exact position. In a piece for Vox published during Lindsay’s season, Smith alleged that producers manipulated and lied to her to create drama between her and other contestants.

“I was offered, and drank, copious amounts of alcohol—which only made that emotional reaction worse,” Smith wrote. “As the night went on, it became more and more clear to me that the producers were intentionally creating an environment where I would feel uncomfortable due to my race.” (The show did not comment at the time.)

Both Lindsay’s season of The Bachelorette and Matt James’s outing as Bachelor this year botched the most crucial ingredient: the love story itself. As Lindsay notes, producers used Latino stereotypes to cast Bryan Abasolo, her winner whom she eventually married, as a Miami playboy. (“He told me he never felt more Latino than when he was on the show because of the way producers edited him and what they wanted him to talk about,” she wrote.)

Rather than tell a coherent story about Lindsay’s journey for love, her Bachelorette season wasted its energy on a highly manipulated, race-focused feud. Instead of protecting their first Black Bachelorette and attempting to assemble a diverse group of eligible suitors, producers cast Lee Garrett, a Mississippi native who had compared the NAACP to the Ku Klux Klan—as well as multiple Black men who did not date Black women. Lindsay’s white runner-up, Peter Kraus, became a fan favorite—even though, in her words, “he didn’t offer anything other than being a fine physical specimen… Because Bachelor Nation applauds mediocrity.”

“You have no idea what it feels like to be the first person representing Black people to your lily-white audience,” Lindsay recalls telling her producers. She added later: “You are leaning on me to guide you through what it’s like to handle a Black lead. And I have to be the Black lead. I have to educate y’all and navigate my system.”

James’s season, meanwhile, drowned viewers in the petty dramas between his white contestants. The first Black Bachelor and his contestants of color got sidelined as fan accounts like Bachelor Data Analyst tracked disparities in screen time and social media performance in excruciating detail. And in the end, the show exploited the long-debunked trope of absent Black fathers to reductively explain James’s struggles with romantic connection.

But the most upsetting experience Lindsay describes from her time as a citizen of Bachelor Nation is what happened after filming wrapped—especially once she chose to use her platform to speak out about the experiences she and other contestants of color face.

Tensions have been building for years within the Bachelor fandom. There are fans who desperately want to see the franchise join the 21st century with more diversity both in front of and behind the camera. But there is also a toxic, highly vocal contingent that wants things to stay exactly as exclusionary as they are—and they’ve been there from the beginning.

In recent years, the latter camp has rallied around embattled figures like Rachael Kirkconnell—the winner of James’s season who, as seen in photos that surfaced during the season, attended an antebellum South-themed party in 2018. Harrison’s insistence on defending Kirkconnell during his now infamous Extra TV interview with Lindsay back in February reinforced the degree to which the Bachelor franchise has inculcated and enabled its own toxic fandom—and the number of fans who descended on Lindsay in response to that interview is a reminder of just how substantial this portion of Bachelor Nation really is.

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Lindsay and her Bachelor Happy Hour podcast co-host Van Lathan have dubbed this subset the “Bachelor Klan.” These viewers, Lindsay explained, are “hateful, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic. They are afraid of change. They are afraid to be uncomfortable. They are afraid when they get called out.”

The problem Lindsay describes is not new; it’s existed since the beginning of the franchise. The first-ever Bachelor, Alex Michel, shared his first kiss with LaNease Adams, a Black contestant from Los Angeles. At that time in 2002, Adams recalled during a recent interview with The Daily Beast, “The internet was new; message boards were in then.” She and her fellow contestants had become obsessed with looking at Bachelor postings—but she was shocked to see the racism that some contained. One that stuck in her memory read: “Who does that Black girl think she is? He’s never gonna pick her.”

“The franchise has spent 19 years cultivating a toxic audience,” Lindsay wrote in her New York essay. “They have constantly given it a product it wants: a midwestern/southern white, blonde, light-eyed Christian.”

Now, however, regressive Bachelor fans have more invasive tools at their disposal. Lindsay wrote that as her Harrison interview spread, some social media users began “trying to dig up dirt on me.” Death threats and personal attacks began to roll in, and she was forced to hire protection.

Lindsay wrote that her initial intention had been to step away from the franchise once improvements were made. That hasn’t exactly happened, but in the wake of the Harrison interview, she has decided it’s time. Two months after she temporarily disabled her Instagram account due to harassment, Lindsay exited the Bachelor Happy Hour podcast in April. She recently guest-hosted The View, where she talked about her experience being labeled an “angry Black woman” after responding to Kraus’s insistence that she would live a “mediocre” life without him by saying she was living her best life.

In making this move, Lindsay wrote, “I am no longer a figurehead. I am no longer a spot-filler. I am no longer the face of what is diverse.” But the problem remains in her wake.

It’s not Rachel Lindsay’s responsibility to help clean up The Bachelor; it never was. She has not asked for an apology, and it’s hard to imagine what an adequate mea culpa in this situation would even look like. With Katie Thurston’s Bachelorette season currently airing and both Bachelor in Paradise and Michelle Young’s Bachelorette outing on their way, Bachelor producers do at least have plenty of chances to prove they’re serious about making changes this time. But it’s up to fans to make sure they know we’re watching for them—and that we’re not willing to wait any longer.

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