The Problem with the Respectability Politics of Bachelor Matt James

THE BACHELOR - ÒThe Bachelor: After the Final RoseÓ Ð On-air personality and bestselling author Emmanuel Acho hosts an emotional and impactful evening featuring touching reunions, heart-wrenching confrontations and powerful one-on-one talks with the final women as well as the Bachelor himself, Matt James. Plus Ðjust when you thought the twists and turns were finished Ð a shocking announcement that will have Bachelor Nation talking, all on ÒThe Bachelor: After the Final Rose,Ó MONDAY, MARCH 15 (10:00-11:03 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (ABC/Craig Sjodin) RACHAEL, MATT JAMES

Matt James’ season of The Bachelor is officially over but its legacy will live on. The first African American Bachelor, James’ season was probably (to borrow a phrase) the most controversial yet. To start off, we have to talk about why most people think franchise outsider Matt James was this season’s Bachelor: In recent years, Bachelor Nation has been receiving much pushback about not being inclusive of all races (hello it’s 2021).

To add to the fire, the seasoned host of The Bachelor Chris Harrison and season winner Rachel Kirkconnell are under fire for their racist comments and pictures.

Rachel Kirkconnell may have won Matt’s final rose but once he found out about her past, it was a no for him. Pictures from 2018 surfaced of Rachel and her friends in traditional antebellum attire going to an old southern plantation party. Antebellum parties basically celebrate when slaves were legal in the South, representing a continuation of that dark history in America. A history that is oftentimes misunderstood with a lack of education around it. Many people’s ancestors were victims of these slave owners and were abused at the same grounds of these plantations that Rachel K. was celebrating. She has since apologized and is claiming to be “doing the work,” aka learning about this history and advocating for change.

Chris Harrison is under fire for supporting Rachel K. and not seeing anything wrong with her attendance at these parties. He spoke with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, on her podcast and was calling Rachel K. a victim in all this. Harrison has since apologized and corrected what he said. But as the face of the Bachelor Nation Franchise, he represents what the brand stands for and this controversy of him supporting Rachel K.’s mistakes along with the Bachelor franchise not being fully racially inclusive has done much damage to their reputation.

In the episode “After the Final Rose,” Matt explains that he had to be on his best behavior because this was probably the first time that a Black man was in some of the audience member’s homes. I disagree with this approach, though, because being on your “best behavior,” seems a little like condoning the audience’s limited view by playing a part. Be who you are Matt! In my opinion, Matt’s good behavior is why his season was a bit dry in comparison to others. He was so concerned with keeping up appearances, in being the well-behaved Black man rather than being completely who he is, that it felt (more) fake than usual. This is your show, Matt, you should do what you please! Here’s hoping Michelle Young, who’s set to be the next Black lead of the show, learns from Matt and makes some different choices.

In the end, it’s 2021, all shows and reality television should be inclusive of all races – not doing so is a disservice to all of us. Bachelor Nation needs to do better and have not only racial equality but also more other types of diversity. We need more contestants like Abigail Herringer, who has a hearing impairment. And can we see a plus-size Bachelorette? Times have changed since The Bachelor premiered in 2002 and the show needs to change with it. The audience is begging you to do better – let’s get with the times!

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