First off, let me wholeheartedly declare my love for the Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and yes even its more dysfunctional spin-off, The Bachelor Pad. Yet no matter how much l love these shows, I can’t help but recognize that I would make a horrible contestant.
Like what I assume must be hundreds of thousands of other young women my age, I too engage in the Monday night ritual of watching “The Bachelorette,” which—for those of you who don’t know—usually involves a bottle of wine with your girlfriends, hurried and impassioned conversations during commercial breaks, and of course the most important part of the evening, the “post-screening summit” —a discussion whose energy would rival that of a G8 summit any day.
Though I am both aware and interested in the many cultural implications that a show like The Bachelor/Bachelorette exposes in our society, there is one particular issue as of late that has especially peaked my interest: As of April 2012, two former African-American cast members are currently suing ABC’s hit television franchise for what they deem to be “racial discrimination.”
While normally I don’t take the criticisms leveled against the Bachelor/Bachelorette too seriously—claims such as the “absurdity” of finding a spouse on television or accusations that we are propagating a “fairy-tale ending” that doesn’t really exist—I strongly feel that the current issue being brought up about racial discrimination on the Bachelor/Bachelorette is one that should be discussed, rather than ignored.
There are a few reasons I feel more strongly on behalf of this particular concern than some of the more tried-and-true apprehensions regularly surrounding reality-dating shows. First, I myself am a woman of color. I’m a Cuban, Korean, Filipino first-generation American woman, and my purpose in writing this article is not in hopes of speaking for entire groups of people, but rather to offer a personal narrative about how reality television is currently affecting my own little worldview.
The second reason is a bit more complex. You see, for the most part I believe that when people choose to watch shows like The Bachelorette or Million Dollar Matchmaker, or any other reality television dating series, they kind of know what they are getting themselves into. We expect some sense of suspended reality, in fact that’s part of the reason we love watching these shows, because even though we know it’s probably not going to work out in the end, we still love watching people “fall in love.” However the danger in giving into that unrealistic “reality” is that we begin to believe it’s real.
Whether we know it or not, everything we read, watch, and listen to contributes to our larger ideas about how society works, and it all gives us our lens by which to frame our real realities.
So, what does this have to do with racial discrimination? More than you think.
By consistently having not only a majority, but an almost exclusively white cast on The Bachelor/Bachelorette, we are saying (whether intentionally or not) that it is only white people in this country who deserve to have a shot at finding true love.
What?! Some of you maybe reading this and find what I said to be completely absurd, thinking, “of course that’s not what ABC is trying to say.” This may just be to you another classic example of racial issues being blown out of proportion by the media, but to that I say I am simply writing on behalf of myself and how the media I watch affects me as a non-white woman.
It is strange to grow up in a country like America—so rich in its racial and cultural diversity—and yet find a shockingly lacking picture of that history reflected in our media. If you are not a woman of color, chances are you know someone who is. Maybe it’s your co-worker, your neighbor, or even your best friend. Put yourself in our shoes for just a minute and imagine what it’s like to turn on the television and not see a single person that looks like you pass by for ten minutes, thirty minutes, and hour or more.
Though it may not always be on the surface of our minds, a part of us takes note of that, reminding ourselves that in many ways we are invisible, and the invisible cannot be beautiful because they’re not even seen.
Sometimes when I am watching the Bachelorette and my heart is getting swept away by the building music, the exotic destinations, and the twenty-five beautiful men standing nervously in their suits waiting for a moment to talk to Emily, I try and imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes. And I confess, it’s very hard.
It’s hard to hear man after man say to the camera that Emily is the most beautiful woman they’ve ever met, when she is actually the complete physical opposite of who I am. She has blond hair, hazel eyes, a tiny waist, and southern charm, and though I do not count myself an ugly woman, it is hard to think these men would step out of a limousine and l lose their words over me. To be honest, it’s even harder to imagine being on the Bachelor than the Bachelorette, where at least I would be making all the calls. While all my friends talk about what their chances would be as contestants on the Bachelor, I can only picture myself being sent home after the first rose ceremony, the only woman of color amongst a sea of beautiful white women.
So you see, this issue is not one that can be taken lightly, as it is not something that I have the luxury of ignoring. Though invisible to the world of modern American media, when I look in the mirror I am sure I exist, and I can no longer pretend that not seeing myself on the shows I love and watch is not a disheartening thing. If we want to raise a generation of young, confident women, who believe they are beautiful, worthy, and capable, then we must make sure that all women—no matter their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—are given an equal opportunity to shine in both the modern media and the real world outside of reality television.
What I am proposing is not an easy fix. It cannot be done overnight or likely even within the next decade, but it is one that starts with people like you—people who read things on the internet, share them with their friends, and make their voices heard about the things they care about. Even if you personally are not a woman of color, or even a woman for that matter, you can still help the cause by supporting media that supports others.
Whether it’s something as small as sharing this article with others, writing a letter to ABC, or even just making an effort to watch shows that do their best to represent people of all colors and all walks of life, we are one step closer than we were before—and that’s one step closer to making things what they should be.
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