America is ready for more diversity on “The Bachelorette”

After the most dramatic finale episode ever (yes, ever), we stayed at the edges of our seats to see what would happen on After the Final Rose. It’s customary that during this episode, a particular announcement will be made — and, let’s get real, that’s usually the reason most of us watch. That announcement is the revelation of who will be the next bachelor or bachelorette, and while we usually have some inkling of who it may be, this time our inkling was wrong. 

Back in January, the former president of ABC Paul Lee teased the possibility of a diverse bachelorette, saying, “I think that’s likely to happen.” We assumed that meant it would be Caila, because the show had played up her Filipino background, especially during her hometown visit. There had been numerous reports confirming these suspicions, and she’d even been seen filming in her hometown, presumably promos for next season. 

While some people weren’t too happy with the apparent choice of Caila, others were thrilled with the decision to cast the first biracial lead in the franchise. There was an overwhelming response, and NPR’s Code Switch did a episode titled “What Would It Mean To Have A ‘Hapa’ Bachelorette?” during which they discussed what it would mean to move away from a show that has been historically white to one headed up by a person of color, specifically an Asian American, or Hapa woman. 

That’s why last night, when it was announced that JoJo, rather than Caila, would be in control of literally hundreds of roses next season, there were mixed emotions from fans of the show. Some people took to social media to show support for both women, and some attacked the network for their choice. There was also a lot of media outcry today over the choice; headlines said that ABC had “failed diversity expectations” while others wrote that JoJo was a “thorny choice” amidst concerns of network diversity.

However, at this point it’s important to note that JoJo is actually a diverse choice for the show as well — she’s half-Persian. Just because they didn’t highlight JoJo’s background during the show doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and who are viewers to deny her her identity? In her bio on ABC, she says, “My mom is Persian, and my dad was born and raised in Tennessee. I’m proud of my mother’s background despite what social opinions are. It’s important for me to stand up to people stereotyping Iranians.” Her experience as a half-Persian woman is something that only she can speak to, and it’ll be interesting to see how that informs her time on the show. 

This is a good thing. Hopefully, her background will be more highlighted this season, as she will obviously get more screentime than she did while dating Ben. When viewers learn that she is, in fact, a more diverse choice than they thought, perhaps they’ll go easier on her, and some diehard Caila fans will swing over to her side. The initial outcry over her casting, however, is proof of one thing — America is ready for something more from the entertainment we choose to watch. We are ready for more diversity. We are ready for a change.

As far as the diversity of the men who will arrive in the limos to woo her, hopefully that will change, too. These handy infographics show when people of color typically get sent home on the show — and it’s usually fairly early. Rarely do they make it to the end, and while that may have less to do solely with race than with chemistry and other factors, implicit bias does often play into chemistry from the outset (we have a long way to go when it comes to overcoming implicit biases, but perhaps seeing more diverse people on our screens is a good start). However, choosing a diverse bachelor or bachelorette obviously bypasses the chance they’ll be sent home, and gives viewers with similar backgrounds the chance for representation during the entire season. Representation is so, so important.

In a world where parodies and scripted versions of reality dating shows, such as UnREAL, are breaking barriers by casting diverse bachelors and bachelorettes before the shows they imitate, it’s obvious that while we’re loyal to the show itself, it doesn’t mean we need things to keep going the way they have been. We’re ready for more diversity — in fact, we’re asking for it.

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