The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘The Bachelor’ is embarrassingly white

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"The Bachelor," a reality show in which a single man picks a wife from a horde of eager women, can probably be criticized for a lot of things -- rampant sexism, outdated gender roles, conflating a hunger for fame with love and romance. But one of the most convincing critiques is that the show is embarrassingly white.

After 12 years of being on the air, "The Bachelor" and its sister show "The Bachelorette" have had only one nonwhite person in their combined title roles – and that after facing a class action lawsuit for racial discrimination. The next bachelor or bachelorette is chosen from among the show’s finalists, so the real problem may be that only a handful of minorities compete as contestants, and that those who do compete are eliminated early. In the current season of The Bachelor, only one of the 30 female contestants is a minority, and she is already off the show.

In 2012, two would-be contestants brought a class action lawsuit against the show for under-representing minorities. The suit alleged that ABC features minority contestants in their non-romance reality shows, such as Dancing with the Stars, but that it did not cast people of color in "The Bachelor" because it was afraid interracial romance would create controversy among its audience. A judge dismissed the case, saying it was the show’s First Amendment right to cast whomever they wanted. But the case may have had an effect anyway: The number of minority contestants increased significantly in 2013 and 2014, before falling again this year.

Karen X. Cheng has graphed the number of minority contestants in recent years and when they were eliminated (the rose represents when the bachelor or bachelorette picks their match). Here is "The Bachelor":

And "The Bachelorette":

In both cases, the number of minority contestants spike after 2012. The graphic below, which charts both shows together, also shows an odd parallel in the number of minorities for each season of "The Bachelor" vs. "The Bachelorette." Cheng wonders whether this could be due to a producer-set quota for minorities.

In a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the show’s creator claimed that he would like to cast more people of color on the show, but “for whatever reason, they don’t come forward.” Other people in the industry dismissed the statement, however. Shawn Ryan, a producer who created “The Shield,” called the show’s practices “straight up racism.” “They just don’t think America will watch black bachelor or root for mixed-race marriage,” Ryan tweeted.

SNL skewered the show for these issues in January in its parody skit “Farm Hunk.” “There’s so many beautiful girls here, but tonight I have to send three of them home," country star Blake Shelton says in his impersonation of the season’s bachelor, Iowa farmer Chris Soules. "Probably the two black girls, plus one of the curly haired ones.”

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