When faced with the opportunity to be the first Black lead on a Bachelor show, Rachel Lindsay initially said no. She was skeptical she’d find true love through ABC’s popular reality dating series. But then she changed her mind. “It’s bigger than me,” Lindsay has said of her decision to star as the Bachelorette in 2017. “They need representation, and I felt that I could do it well.”

She did meet her husband. But she quickly learned that simply featuring a Black woman’s search for love didn’t usher in huge changes for a franchise that has long had issues when it comes to race. Lindsay critiqued the show for portraying her as “an angry Black female,” a stark contrast to how it depicts White women.

Four years after her season wrapped, through her podcasts and social media following, Lindsay’s influence on the show has only grown. She pushed for the show to select its first Black Bachelor, a benchmark realized this season with Matt James — only to see things devolve when a contestant was called out for racial insensitivity and then defended by Chris Harrison, who was forced to step aside as the show’s host. Throughout this controversial season, which ends Monday, Lindsay has been the one constantly pushing the franchise to confront its shortcomings. And the producers appear to be paying attention.

You might say “The Bachelor” resembles the commitment-phobic boyfriend who proposes only after his partner gives an ultimatum. You want him to get there on his own, but you’re not going to wait around forever.

And so, in June, as Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country, Lindsay called on “The Bachelor” to have its own racial reckoning. In interviews and blog posts, Lindsay made her point of view clear: “I am affiliated with this franchise and to be silent on some matters is to still be complicit with these cycles of detrimental conduct,” she wrote, adding that “I have come to the conclusion that if changes are not made on the inside and outside of the franchise, I will dissociate myself from it.” (Lindsay co-hosts ABC’s “Bachelor Happy Hour” podcast; her representative did not respond to an interview request for this story.)

In that ultimatum, Lindsay called on ABC to cast leads who are “truly interested” in dating outside their race, to diversify its producers to “make your contestants of color feel more comfortable,” and to “stop creating problematic story lines for people of color.” A few days later, ABC announced that James, who was slated for Clare Crawley’s season of “The Bachelorette,” would instead become the first Black Bachelor in the show’s nearly 20 years of existence.

The season starring James, a 29-year-old real estate broker from New York, has not gone smoothly. Filming wrapped in the fall, the episodes started airing in January, and by February, Internet sleuths had found that one of James’s top contestants, Rachael Kirkconnell, had a history of racially insensitive social media posts. She had “liked” a post of friends posing in front of a Confederate flag; shared an Instagram post whose language echoed the QAnon extremist ideology; dressed in a Native American costume; and attended an “Old South” antebellum-themed party in college in 2018. Kirkconnell has since apologized and is among James’s two remaining contestants.

But before the apology, Lindsay had a tense interview on “Extra” with Harrison, who excused Kirkconnell’s actions, saying he was not “the woke police” and noting that although Kirkconnell’s posts weren’t acceptable in 2021, they weren’t such a misstep just a few years ago.

Lindsay pushed back on this notion, both in the interview and later. “He never gave me room to talk, and he never gave me room to share my perspective,” Lindsay said on “Higher Learning,” a podcast she co-hosts with Van Lathan. “He wasn’t trying to hear it, he was just trying to be heard.” Lindsay also said she was “exhausted” by the franchise’s diversity issues. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said, adding that she would stop working with the franchise once her contract is up.

Two days after that podcast episode, Harrison announced that he’d step aside and not host the “After the Final Rose” special that airs after Monday night’s finale.

Who will host in his place? Well, Lindsay had a suggestion there, too. Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL player and the host of the Web series “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.” Lindsay and her husband, Bryan Abasolo, appeared on Acho’s series, in an episode about the complexities of interracial relationships. Acho is “very outspoken about racial injustice, for social justice, and has pretty much been the person who said, ‘I can have these uncomfortable conversations, and people trust it.’ Who better to lead it?” Lindsay told People magazine of Acho. He’s “not involved with the franchise, no ties, no bias.”

About a week later, ABC announced that Acho would host “After the Final Rose.” On Friday, Warner Horizon, the show’s production company, and ABC Entertainment announced that Harrison would also sit out the next season of “The Bachelorette,” with former leads Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe sharing hosting duties instead.

Lindsay isn’t the first to push the show to evolve, but she might be the most effective. For years, viewers have criticized the Bachelor shows for being overwhelmingly White; former contestants have alleged that racial discrimination takes place in casting. The show’s diversity issues go beyond race. Contestants are predominantly Christian, a homogeneity that stuck out during James’s premiere, when he led his entire cast of 32 women in an opening-night prayer. And the show is overwhelmingly heterosexual, with an occasional bisexual or sexually fluid contestant. In the 2019 season of “Bachelor in Paradise,” Demi Burnett became the first to be part of a same-sex relationship on the show.

Bachelors and Bachelorettes rarely make public statements about their seasons while they’re still airing, but in late February, James posted on Instagram about Harrison’s “failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South.” James noted that the way the show has handled Kirkconnell’s social media history reflected a “larger issue that the Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years.”

When asked for comment on Lindsay’s enduring influence over the Bachelor, ABC did not respond. But Lathan, Lindsay’s co-host for the “Higher Learning” podcast, thinks the show would do well to act on more of her advice. “She’s a huge blessing to the franchise, to be able to have somebody of her skill set and depth being right in this position as they need a voice on these things,” Lathan said in a phone interview. “I think it would be better if they leaned into her even more than they are now.”

Lathan hasn’t appeared on the Bachelor shows, nor is he a huge fan of them, but he sees them as “a piece of pop culture going through growing pains in real time,” adding that, in the United States, “there’s no growing pain that hurts more than reconciling a hurtful past in regards to race.”

Being the loudest voice calling on the Bachelor franchise to change is not easy. After she pushed back against Harrison’s handling of Kirkconnell’s social media history, Lindsay received so much hate via Instagram, where she has nearly 1 million followers, that she had to take a brief hiatus from the platform and from ABC’s “Bachelor Happy Hour” podcast. When Harrison issued an apology on “Good Morning America” recently, he called on Bachelor fans to stop “throwing hate” at Lindsay, adding that “it is unacceptable.” The show’s executive producers posted a statement supporting her, saying that “we are grateful that she has worked tirelessly towards racial equity and inclusion.”

Lathan sees Lindsay’s efforts to change the show — and the opposition to those changes — as a clash of ideologies. “You have people who want to see things a different way and people who are just watching a television show. And on a human level, it’s difficult to find very much fault with either group,” Lathan says. “But intellectually and emotionally for me, I just have to support and be on the side of redefinition of the status quo.”

Despite the online abuse, Lindsay has continued to hold the show accountable, calling out a recent episode for playing into harmful stereotypes of Black men as absentee fathers. “If the Bachelor franchise has shown us anything, it’s that they don’t know how to protect people of color,” Lindsay said on the Ringer’s “Bachelor Party” podcast. “They only know how to exploit them.”

The latest item on Lindsay’s wish list? On Wednesday, she told ABC Audio that she’d like to see a Bachelor-type show that focuses on diverse love stories — and maybe the way to do that is to build something new. “I do think it would be impactful,” Lindsay said. “I fight for diversity within the Bachelor franchise. And I do want to see a love story that puts two people of color at the end. But sometimes I wonder, ‘Are we asking for something that we just may never see?’”

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