You never want to be the star of “The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All.” The annual special, which airs the week before the show’s finale, reunites the men who were eliminated throughout the season. The producers always focus on the most-despised contestant of the season, and this year, the choice was obvious.
That would be Lee Garrett, a 30-year-old singer from Nashville. Lee made headlines this summer for not only being the show’s villain, but for his Twitter feed, which featured tweets including “What’s the difference between the NAACP and the KKK? One has a sense of shame to cover their racist ass faces.”
Screenshots from Lee’s (now-private) Twitter account surfaced about a week after the show premiered in May. One question is why ABC cast him in the first place, let alone this season, which features the franchise’s first black star, Rachel Lindsay. Given that the network screens all contestants, how did this red flag slip through? Here’s what host Chris Harrison had to say:
For those asking, no, of course we didn't know about the offensive tweets from Lee's account. None of us were aware of them Very unfortunate
— Chris Harrison (@chrisbharrison) June 2, 2017
Lee also caused problems in “The Bachelorette” house early on, as he feuded with multiple contestants — nearly all of whom, as cast members were quick to point out, were people of color.
“The only people that I’ve seen Lee pick fights with have been not the people that, uh, he’s used to seeing on a daily basis, from a cultural perspective,” said Dean Unglert, a 26-year-old recruiter, in an on-camera interview in the fourth episode.
“What do you mean?” a producer asked, off-camera.
“You know exactly what I mean when I say that,” Dean said quickly. “The longer Lee sticks around, the more everyone will become aware of his intolerance.”
Lee repeatedly clashed with Kenny King, a 35-year-old wrestler, who called Lee “an alternative facts piece of garbage.” Lee chortled on camera as he got under Kenny’s skin, and labeled him “aggressive.” Will Gaskins, a 28-year-old sales manager, told Lee why that was offensive: “When you call him aggressive, there is a long-standing history in this country of regarding black men as aggressive to justify a lot of other things.” In return, Lee said Kenny was playing “the race card.”
All of these issues were dissected during “The Men Tell All”; at one point, Kenny said he felt Lee’s actions were based in insecurity rather than racism. Things boiled over when Chris Harrison read some of Lee’s tweets out loud. He read the KKK-NAACP comparison twice, and also a few of his tweets about women: “Guys, when is the last time you actually saw a pretty feminist?”
Lee, who kept a poker face on camera, replied, “I feel like I have a lot to learn in that area. And I feel like I said things that I should not have said. They were inconsiderate.”
The other cast members looked skeptical. “Everybody’s sorry when they get caught,” Kenny said. “But if you didn’t get caught, would you be sorry?” Josiah Graham, a 28-year-old attorney, walked over to Lee and spoke to him directly.
“I want you to articulate to all of us why did you come on a show where the bachelorette was an African American woman, if on the other hand, you’re tweeting about black people and groups of black people who fought and died so I can be on the stage next to you. People came before me so that I could go to the same school like you, so I could drink from the fountain like you,” Josiah said. “And if you’re comparing them to the KKK, people who hung my ancestors, why are you trying to date a woman who looks like me?”
Lee paused before he spoke. “I don’t like racism at all. It bothers me morally,” he said. “It bothers me inside, and I don’t like it. And when I woke up and I saw that those came out, it hurt me a lot. And I started thinking about how reckless — ”
The contestants piped up with more questions: “Were you hurt that you said it? Cause there’s a big difference between the two.” “What was your intention?” Lee protested that it was only half of a tweet, and the other half was cut off when it posted from his Facebook to Twitter account.
“Lee, it’s hard for me to fathom that you are somebody other than somebody who has racist views,” Josiah said.
“Well, I understand where you’re coming from, from seeing that and not knowing me,” Lee said. “I was being irresponsible in what I put out.”
This went back and forth as Lee also explained that he tends to make bad jokes, and it “hurt” to think that he caused offense to anyone. Anthony Battle, a 26-year-old software manager, brought the conversation to a halt:
“Lee, I understand where you’re coming from, but I feel like you haven’t acknowledged exactly what we’re trying to forgive you for. I think you’re just saying, ‘I’ve been a bad person,’ but you’re not acknowledging the kind of invisible racism in your mind,” Anthony said. “You may not be doing it intentionally, but … it’s still motivating your actions. The racism that is ingrained in your behavior to the point of invisibility is still pushing you to behave in a certain way towards Kenny, towards Eric, towards me in a way that you don’t even recognize. So, are your actions motivated by racist thoughts that are implicitly embedded in your mentality?”
Anthony got a standing ovation. Lee looked flustered, and eventually said he was wrong, and that he still had a lot to learn. “I’m sorry for — saying things,” he said, taking a long pause, “when I was not educated and ignorant in those subjects.”
The contestants weren’t having it. “You still didn’t acknowledge to me, and maybe I just didn’t hear it, that what you said was racist,” Will said. “Whether or not you truly believe you are racist, you never actually said, ‘These things that I said were racist, they were misogynist, they were just crass and rude. Those things are not what’s in my heart. Help me get better.’ That’s what we want to hear.”
“That tweet was racist, and I denounce it,” Lee concluded. The audience applauded. Kenny even offered to hug it out. “I came on, again, to learn, and I made mistakes. And I appreciate, even through that all, even with doubt, you guys are reaching out to help,” Lee said, adding that he wanted to apologize to Rachel for taking away from her “Bachelorette” experience.
Later, Rachel came out on stage to tease the finale (she’ll choose the winner in next Monday’s episode) and addressed Lee. She admitted that she saw a much different side of him when they were alone, and was disturbed to watch the show and see how he behaved when he wasn’t with her.
“I just feel like you had such an amazing opportunity to be surrounded by different people and different cultures, and you didn’t take advantage of that. I hope that in watching it back, you realize that you were a part of something so great,” Rachel said. “But in case you didn’t — please know that you can exit stage left and meet me backstage, and I’d be more than happy to give you a black history lesson, and a lesson on women’s rights.”