Mel McComb
Updated March 03, 2020 12:54 pm
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The Bachelor has officially run out of excuses. On Monday morning, Clare Crawley, a former contestant and runner-up of Season 18, was announced on Good Morning America as the newest Bachelorette. The news reverberated throughout social media with shock and excitement as Crawley, 38, will be the oldest lead of the franchise ever. The announcement was also met with disappointment as the decision to cast a white contestant from a much earlier season took priority over casting a more recent contestant of color. Afterwards, it became immediately clear that yet another conversation must be had about The Bachelor’s predominantly white casts and the minimal effort put forth to diversify them.

The Bachelor has cast (a few) more contestants of color over time, although typically in each season they are eliminated early on. The premature nature of their departures has proven useful to the franchise when doling out excuses for their lily-white lineup of leads. If contestants do not go far in the season, there is no reason to hand them the starring role. It’s also a way to address diversity concerns without having to actually honor any significant calls for change to the show’s format; after all, producers can’t be blamed for who the lead does or does not connect with. However, with the recent news of Crawley, the excuse that Bachelor producers simply don’t have people of color to choose from for leading roles is officially null and void.

When Tayshia Adams of Season 22 was left tied with Hannah Godwin for the position of runner-up by Colton Underwood, the show appeared to be in a perfect position to cast another woman of color as their Bachelorette, second to Rachel Lindsay, the franchise’s only black lead. Adams was a worthy, if not a fantastic, choice to be the next Bachelorette. After all, she fit the role as previous leads had—she was a 28-year-old phlebotomist from California and objectively stunning. She was also a woman of faith and a divorcée with a powerful storyline, quickly becoming a fan favorite of that season. Unfortunately, she lost the gig to Hannah Brown, a 24-year-old interior designer from Alabama, who had finished in fifth place. It was recently revealed by professional spoiler, Reality Steve, that Adams was being considered for a second shot to star as the Bachelorette following the current season of The Bachelor. Now that the role has been handed to Crawley, ABC and The Bachelor have, once again, passed on the opportunity to cast a Black lead.

As Adams was overlooked, Natasha Parker from this current season was also passed on. Parker left in fifth place and was beloved by viewers, mirroring Brown’s Bachelor run before she became the Bachelorette. But yet, producers still chose Crawley. The random nature of Crawley’s casting has already been met with criticism, especially considering that she has already had several chances to pursue love on the franchise. Her relevancy is also a concern as she began her journey on The Bachelor seven years ago in contrast to someone like Adams or Parker, who are more recent faces to Bachelor Nation. Crawley’s casting has not been without praise, though, as complaints about casts’ age ranges have circled around the franchise for years. Having a 38-year-old Bachelorette is a positive step forward, although it is disappointing to realize that addressing ageism is of higher concern to show runners than resolving its lack of racial diversity.

Showrunners have addressed accusations of racism within the production of the show, but their justifications no longer make sense. Series creator Mike Fliess once excused the show’s lack of diversity by saying, “We always want to cast for ethnic diversity. It’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.” We know today that is simply not true anymore. Robert Mills, ABC’s head of reality programming, spoke in platitudes when asked about the uproar over a lack of diversity within the show, recently saying, “I think there will be backlash and you’re always going to get backlash. I frankly can’t recall a single ‘Bachelor’ or ‘Bachelorette’ choice who was universally agreed upon.” But excusing lack of diversity goes beyond the universal agreement that the lead will always be controversial; those in charge of The Bachelor still fail to address why people like Adams and Parker, who have gone further in the franchise than many contestants of color typically do, are still not receiving fair treatment.

In 2019, during a question-and-answer seminar at the University of Southern California, guest panelist and host of the The Bachelor Chris Harrison responded to a student’s probe regarding the lack of racial diversity on the show by saying, “Over the last several years, we have taken great strides in trying to make you feel more represented. While I would love to only make great social statements and change the world, I can’t just do that because we have to stay on the air, or I’m not making a social statement to anyone.” It is difficult to interpret Harrison’s words as anything other than implying that in order to remain on the air, white people need to remain as the focal point. Harrison continued by saying, “If it’s organic and it feels right, that’s when we can do it, when you try to force things, it backfires on you.”

Viewers deserve a better explanation than this, as do contestants. What would be so “forced” about casting a recent fan favorite, Adams, who has 870,000 Instagram followers, over a white contestant from years ago? What would be so “forced” about casting top-five contestant Parker? Crawley has participated in five different seasons within the franchise.

It is challenging to imagine any circumstance more “forced” than producers digging through The Bachelor contestant archives, only to pluck out someone who had never been poised to be the Bachelorette before.

Harrison’s notion that casting another black lead is something to be considered as “forced,” is not only problematic, but completely missing the mark in terms of how a major network should approach its decision making. Crawley’s casting only accentuates this. It is concerning to see the lengths production will go to avoid placing anyone other than a conventionally hot, able-bodied, cis, straight white person in the spotlight. While it is certainly positive to see an older woman finally cast as the show’s lead, why must age take priority over race in the diversity quota after years of pleading from the public? Representation matters. How many times must we say this?

The standard for which white contestants are held to on the show are arguably low as they simply need to have a strong personality for television, be conventionally attractive, and illicit a positive audience reaction. However, when those standards are met by contestants of color, such as Mike Johnson, who finished fourth in Brown’s season, rules suddenly change. During her season, Lindsay surpassed the traditional merits of former leads as she was a successful attorney, beautiful, funny, firm yet feminine by traditional Western standards, and actually married her chosen winner. Yet producers seemed to see little incentive in continuing that positive trend. Lindsay herself has refused to stay silent on this issue and, in 2019, suggested the show “go back and do what they used to do in the beginning where they used to choose people outside of the franchise to be the lead.”

There is a myth of meritocracy at The Bachelor producers’ round table, where the imagined talents and special qualities of their leads are unearned merits handed out exclusively to a specific racial group, deeming white contestants more worthy of the titular role than their marginalized counterparts. The show’s casting process has graduated from presenting an unintentional pattern, to being systemic, and it is time for ABC to take accountability for its vision if they wish to keep up with a nation that is placing more emphasis on honest representation. This could be done by taking Lindsay’s advice: look outside of The Bachelor pool and seek out that person who could be the first Black Bachelor. Forgo taking the path of least resistance for the millionth time and forge a new path—something that doesn’t look exactly the same as before.