Written by Leonor Castro and Nathaniel Day
The Bachelor franchise is infamous for its underrepresentation of Black women. What is seldom talked about, however, is the The Bachelor franchise’s consistent portrayal of Black women as “the aggressor.” On The Bachelor, Black women are often framed as abrasive and confrontational, even when the situation is being perpetuated by another party entirely, or when other women act similarly, yet still never receive those types of edits. The following collection of images highlights the skewed portrayals Black women often receive on The Bachelor, as well as how those portrayals compare to the the show’s white and lighter-complected contestants.
In this cast photo for The Bachelor’s twentieth season, the underrepresentation of Black women as a whole is discernible. Out of all 28 women, only one is a Black woman: Jubilee Sharpe, the woman in the white dress standing to the left of that season’s Bachelor, Ben Higgins. She is automatically and fundamentally “othered” in relation to the rest of the women on the show. This is frequently mirrored in the majority of Bachelor casts, especially in the past. The Black women on the cast infamously leave the show early-on. If they happen to stay longer, however, the ways Black women are treated and portrayed on the show tends to stand out when compared to the non-black contestants, both in terms of how Black women are treated by the other women, as well as the “edit” given to them by production. Actions that are seen as “funny” or “bold” when performed by other white contestants are often interpreted as hostile or overly-assertive when performed by Black women. Blame is continuously put on the women of color for “isolating themselves” from the majority of the cast, when in fact, though it is not always transparent on the show they are often isolated and ostracized based on the judgments made by others about their personalities.
In season 20 of The Bachelor, for example, Lauren Himle noticed that Sharpe had returned from her date with a rose from Higgins. She is soon shown expressing her concern over her compatibility with the man whose heart they were all vying for, because she did not think Sharpe was “nice enough” to get along with other “soccer moms.” Here, Sharpe was once again portrayed as disagreeable. Himle and the other white women consistently get the chance to explain their frustrations with Sharpe as seen in their confessionals, while Sharpe’s own inner thoughts during the conflict can only be inferred as she disagreeably isolates herself from the group. Himle even laments that she pitied Higgins for having to spend such a long amount of time with Sharpe. Instead of showing footage of what Sharpe might be thinking, production chose to show the other contestants talking bad about her.
In this screenshot, Sharpe is seen looking dejected and outcast at a rose ceremony, despite having already been given a rose, the show’s highest status symbol. After returning from her date with a rose, the other women in the show were so unhappy when she came back with a rose that they ostracized her and accused her harmless jokes of being offensive and off-putting. Interview after interview is shown of the women speaking badly of Sharpe and writing her off as a bad fit to date Higgins, because she does not get along well with other women, despite having never behaved unpleasantly towards them. Though she is clearly just insecure and a little bit awkward, her portrayal, especially through the eyes of the other women, is seen as “the girl who doesn’t get along with other girls” and an aggressor. There are even moments when Sharpe attempts to sit with the other girls, but they storm off, making it seen as if she is purposefully separating herself from the group. This clip includes the other women claiming that they feel “attacked” by Sharpe after an interaction in which Sharpe was confronted by a large group. This narrative of feeling “attacked” by a Black woman for simply expressing her feelings is a recurring theme throughout this essay and the show itself.
In this still taken from the ‘Women Tell All’ episode of The Bachelor‘s twenty-third season, Onyeka Ehie is seen defending herself after being called a bully by another contestant, simply for speaking her mind, a common occurrence by many of the series’ women. Chris Harrison, the show’s host, facilitates a conversation that at one point culminates in Ehie defending herself by saying that she will always speak her mind, but she doesn’t think it’s fair to be called a bully. Some of the other girls sitting around her shake their heads and roll their eyes, and she continues to be accused of bullying. In the show’s edit of Ehie, she is frequently seen as the instigator, making jokes that include calling her fellow competitors “bitches” and making a lot of noise. While this is par-for-the-course in Bachelor Nation, exaggeratedly sensitive reactions from some non-black contestants are frequently shown continuing to paint her as one of the more aggressive contestants. Here, Ehie is used as the season’s Sapphire, a stereotype commonly used to dehumanize Black women as “loud, aggressive… combative” and “never satisfied” (Coleman, Reynolds & Torbati, 2019). Despite Ehie being a woman with her own unique experiences and backstory, the producers reduced her character on the show to that of hostility, never highlighting moments that do not include her in confrontations with other women.
While Black women are shamed and stereotyped for showing any type of aggression, there are countless examples throughout the Bachelor franchise of white women actually being praised for their aggressive behavior. The stark difference is exemplified here between the television portrayals of Season 23 contestants Demi Burnett and Courtney Curtis. There are several moments throughout the season in which Burnett is openly confrontational with the other contestants. Despite her aggressions, Burnett is still given a great backstory and character arc, receiving a lot of social media support after her Bachelor exit, as well as many fans and social media followers. Like Ehie, Curtis had a very different experience. Curtis is never portrayed outside of her feud with Burnett. She never gets a real backstory and is normally only shown in confessionals that advance the plotlines of other contestants. On the season’s “Women Tell All” episode, the only time Curtis is asked to voice her opinions is about her relationship with Burnett, which culminates in an almost violent confrontation. While both women are portrayed as aggressive, the aggression of white women and Black women is framed very differently, with the white women being more likely to be heralded for their behavior by both audiences and producers. Burnett has been described as “bold” and “owning her sexuality,” while Curtis has been described as just being confrontational and aggressive. It is important to note here that “reality television shows…are very much part of the white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalistic ideology…” (Jefferson-James, 2015). Generally, it is white men who are the ones controlling what audiences see in the media, stripping Black women from the opportunity to form their own narratives. This inequality is important to recognize as one of the many ways Black women can be set back simply by the portrayal of their sisters on reality television, edited and manufactured by wealthier white men who are in a position of power.
While not all of the Black women get a one-dimensional portrayal on the show, it is important to note that the majority of the women who are portrayed as the “loud and combative” Sapphire are typically the show’s darker-complected Black contestants. As defined by Cherry Wilson of BBC.com, colorism is the “prejudice against people who have a darker skin tone… and/or the preferential treatment of those who are of the same race but lighter-skinned” (Wilson, 2018). Tayshia Adams and Katie Morton are two women from The Bachelor’s twenty-third installment whose portrayals help exemplify this assertion. These two women were portrayed very positively throughout their stint on the show. Both women were two of the season’s major frontrunners, with Adams being runner-up and Morton receiving 8th placed respectably. Even in intense arguments, they were seen remaining more composed and not being framed as being so overtly aggressive. This is a stark contrast to the portrayals of contestants Courtney Curtis and Onyeka Ehie, who are two of the season’s darker-complected Black women.
Here Rachel Lindsay is seen being introduced to the audience as one of the women competing on Season 21 of The Bachelor. While other women’s introductions feature them picking flowers and playing with their pets, Lindsay is seen at work as an attorney commanding a room and explaining a liability case. She is constantly referenced to as being very assertive and commanding, even though she is widely regarded by fans and critics alike as one of the women who holds herself with the most dignity and class on the show. Although her portrayal was favorable enough to win her the spot as the thirteenth Bachelorette, she was still accused of being aggressive and was constantly having to defend herself. Lindsay’s castmate Vanessa Grimaldi took her aside and told her that she saw her as ‘aggressive’ and ‘a bully’, to which Lindsay responded that those accusations were hurtful and offensive as “there are so many stereotypes placed on African American women.” Rachel’s presence on the show was, as a whole, a win for the portrayal of Black women, and yet she still had to defend herself simply for having a personality. This is a clear indication that the problem runs deeper. As Warner put, “if whites are going to think Black women are loud and angry regardless of the mediated images on-screen, and the on-screen space most occupied by Black female characters is limited primarily to reality TV, it seems futile to continue to pretend that the image and not the systemic racism inherent in our culture is the problem.”
During the “After the Final Rose” episode of Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette, the season’s runner-up Peter Kraus is seen looking at her dejectedly while she attempts to discuss her break up with him. In this scenario, a Black woman has taken on the role of the Bachelorette, which is usually almost always a position in which the woman is painted in a mostly faultless and positive light. During this specific conversation, however, Kraus tells Lindsay he feels “attacked” by her, for simply explaining this process may not be the right environment for him. As a strong Black woman with an affluent job, gestures and expressions she uses would be otherwise normally acceptable if occurring on other seasons of The Bachelorette.