“I’m obviously nervous and excited to take on this opportunity but I don’t feel added pressure being the first black ‘Bachelorette,’ because to me I’m just a black woman trying to find love,” she told People magazine. “Yes, I’m [on] this huge stage, but again my journey of love isn’t any different just because my skin color is.”
So, now that Rachel’s journey has concluded — she got engaged to Bryan Abasolo after a grueling finale on Monday night — how did the show handle its “historic” season?
Although race became a big part of the discussion at a few points, the fact that Rachel was the first black bachelorette, while promoted by the network, was rarely brought up directly on the show. It wasn’t mentioned in the premiere, though there were comments about how the cast was more diverse than usual.
When the topic did come up, Rachel didn’t go into much detail. In one emotional scene, Rachel talked about how she actually was under pressure in her role. It happened in the fourth episode, right after contestants Kenny King and Lee Garrett were arguing. (Lee later came under fire for antagonizing his fellow contestants, notably the people of color — he also was forced to apologize for racist tweets.) In an interview with a producer, Rachel declared that she was “ridiculously annoyed” by the drama.
“I was disappointed with the guys tonight, and I don’t really know how to handle it. I’m just saying, you don’t understand the pressures that are going to come with all of this … the pressures that I feel about being a black woman and what that is, and how I don’t even want to talk about it,” she said, tearing up.
Her voice cracked. “I get pressured from so many different ways, being in this position, and I don’t — I did not want to get into all of this tonight. And I already know what people are gonna say about me, and judge me for the decisions that I’m making, I’m gonna be the one who has to deal with that and nobody else. And that’s a lot.”
She looked over at the 0ff-camera producer, wiping away tears. “You have no idea what it’s like to be in this position.”
“I don’t,” the producer said. “I don’t at all.”
Rachel paused. “I’m not talking anymore,” she said.
The Kenny and Lee drama continued, as Lee labeled Kenny “aggressive,” and was pulled aside by another contestant to explain why that’s an offensive term for black men. Kenny called Lee an “alternative facts piece of garbage.” Lee said Kenny was playing “the race card.” It all culminated in a two-on-one date between the two of them, where Lee was eliminated; some viewers were not impressed with the show’s attempt at a “race-focused feud,” as Vanity Fair put it.
Much of the “Men Tell All” episode focused on the cast telling Lee that what he said — and tweeted — was wrong. Lee eventually apologized.
“The show’s attempts to grapple with race have felt consistently off. Casting Lee, some have observed, was an abdication of producers’ duties to vet contestants at best, and a cynical, wildly inappropriate ratings grab at worst,” Vanity Fair’s Laura Bradley wrote. “Rachel has also been subjected to a constant stream of awkward moments, like when Peter Kraus, during a rap, referred to her as ‘a girl from the hood.’ (She grew up in an affluent suburb in Dallas.) These moments usually come and go without comment from Lindsay or anyone else onscreen.”
Throughout the rest of the season, race and relationships was an occasional topic, such as when Will Gaskins, who is black, revealed that he typically dated white women. It sparked a conversation among the other men in the house about whether he should tell Rachel that fact. (They ended up discussing it on a date.) When Rachel went to runner-up Peter Kraus’s hometown, she asked if he had ever brought home a black woman to meet his parents. He responded that he had never actually dated a black woman before, but “my parents support me in whoever I bring home.”
Mostly, the “historic” nature of the show’s casting went unmentioned on air. The closest anyone else got was when Rachel went to visit the final four guys’ families. Eric Bigger, the last remaining black contestant, brought Rachel home to Baltimore, where she bonded with his aunt Verna.
“Here’s a question for you,” Verna announced. “Let’s bring up the r-a-c-e word.”
“Okay,” Rachel started laughing.
“They’re like, ‘first black bachelorette!’ ” Verna said. “So, how are you dealing with that? And were you prepared for that?”
“No!” Rachel said immediately. They acknowledged that it’s tough for Rachel because of all the judgment headed her way. “I’m getting judged by black people, and I’m getting judged by everyone else.
“I don’t think people realize that, you know,” Verna said. “You’re having to worry about what an entire group of people think about your choices.”
“I want love. Love — it doesn’t have a color,” Rachel said. “So my journey for love shouldn’t be any different than the other 12 bachelorettes that were in front of me. So I’m gonna make the best decision for me.”
True to form, the finale of this historic season didn’t mention race — it focused on Rachel’s heartbreak when she broke up with Peter, and her eventual engagement to Bryan. Still, the topic came up in real life: Tuesday morning, Rachel and her new fiance made the press rounds and stopped by ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“You’re the first African American bachelorette, which was groundbreaking,” co-host Michael Strahan said. “How do you think that kind of changed this franchise, if it has at all?”
“You know, I came out and said I was humbled and honored to be the first, but at the same time I think it opened up the audience of who tuned in to ‘The Bachelorette,'” Rachel said, reiterating her main point: “And I think people got to see me in a powerful position as an African American woman — and then at the end of the day see that my journey for love was no different than anyone else’s.”