‘The Bachelor’: When “Tokenism” Becomes a Deterrent to Diversity
ABC’s The Bachelor has seen a bit of a surge in racial scrutiny this year, given that the studio is both being sued for discrimination and lobbied by a new hopeful aiming to be the series’ first black lead. Like its’ sister program The Bachelorette, the series has never featured a nonwhite person in the titular role. And while the cast members competing for the prize of bride or groom have been occasionally diverse, it’s strange to consider that in over 20 combined seasons, not a single person of color has qualified as the star of the show.
The creator of both series, Mike Fleiss, was briefly asked about the issue by EW.com in March of last year. In response to the site’s question of whether there would ever be a nonwhite Bachelor or Bachelorette, Fleiss responded:
“I think Ashley [Hebert, the 7th season Bachelorette] is 1/16thCherokee Indian, but I cannot confirm. But that is my suspicion! We really tried, but sometimes we feel guilty of tokenism. Oh, we have to wedge African-American chicks in there! We always want to cast for ethnic diversity, it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”
It’s extremely difficult to believe that no people of color, anywhere, have responded or would respond to a chance to find the true love and instant stardom Fleiss’s shows offer, given intentional and aggressive casting searches. In fact, Cyrus Mehri, the lawyer for the two black plaintiffs suing ABC Studios over racial discrimination, said that dozens of racial minorities have come forward claiming they were unfairly excluded from the Bachelor selection process. Mehri’s clients are Nathaniel Claybrooks, who says that his interview took less than half the time of the white applicants ahead of him, and Christopher Johnson, who alleges that he was literally stopped, asked why he was at present at the auditions, and then told to leave.
But regardless of whether these claims hold up in court, Fleiss’s attitude toward casting people of color is already an alarming problem. The fact that he uses the stigma behind tokenism to justify why he seemingly gave up on casting minorities hints at a lack of real conviction regarding diversity. While it’s admirable that Fleiss understands tokenism to be a tired way of approaching minority inclusion, eschewing nonwhite representation altogether need not be the only alternative. Seeing as tokenism is simply the practice of meeting a minimal standard of minority inclusion, the logical counter-measure would be to meet more than a minimal standard of minority inclusion. Casting “a few African-American chicks” as leads in The Bachelorette would in actuality be an incredible leap forward in nonwhite representation for the show, considering its track record so far. A one-and-done inclusion of a minority Bachelor or Bachelorette would absolutely count as tokenism, but as long as the series seriously and consistently aims to cast nonwhite leads as often as white ones, then the show could never again be accused of–or sued for–being lax on the matter.
As of now, however, the outlook is bleak. In the same interview that Fleiss revealed a fear of tokenism to be part of his vindication for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette‘s bleached looks, the creator also said that he prefers to bring back previous Bachelors for new seasons moving forward. Because all Bachelors so far have been white, it’s clear that Fleiss’s “wish” for more diversity is more talk than walk. And as long as sampling the same pool of white people is his priority, tokenism, at this point, would be a step up.
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