Does The Bachelor Discriminate Against Blacks?

After 16 seasons, there has yet to be a non-white bachelor on the show. Maybe it's time for a change

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Harrison McClary / Reuters

Christopher Johnson talks with the media during a news conference to discuss his and Nathaniel Claybrooks' lawsuit against ABC's reality TV shows "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" in Nashville, Tennessee April 18, 2012.

In the 1960s, people sued to desegregate lunch counters and universities. In April, a pair of black men challenged a different sort of institution they say remains a bastion of racial exclusion: ABC’s The Bachelor. They asked a federal judge to order the dating show to cast a black lead. Last week, the judge threw the suit out on First Amendment grounds — which was the right thing to do. But just because the suit was a clear loser does not mean it will not have an impact.

Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson applied to be cast as the lead in the 2011 season of The Bachelor but they were turned down. That meant they missed out on the chance to receive a stipend, free food and housing, and travel expenses — and to have 25 women as exhibitionist as they are compete for their affections. The Bachelor may be mind-rottingly dumb — and its couples certainly have a poor track record of actually making it to the altar — but it is in its 16th season, so it clearly has a following.

(MORE: Why Do We Care More About Diversity on TV Than in Our Schools)

The show boasts of its “eclectic mix of bachelors,” which have included “a doctor, football star, prince, millionaire, [and a] single dad” — presumably not the same person — but that eclectic mix has never produced a bachelor of color. The Bachelorette, its sibling show, has never had a bachelorette of color in its eight seasons. That makes the franchise 0 for 24. The overwhelming majority of the women and men competing for the bachelor and bachelorette’s affections have also been white.

Claybrooks and Johnson said that when they applied to be on the show, they were not seriously considered. Claybrooks said that when he went to a casting call in Nashville, all the other applicants appeared to be white, and while their interviews lasted about 45 minutes, his was ended after just 20 minutes.  Johnson said that when he arrived at a casting call also in Nashville, a white employee of the show took his materials and promised to “pass them on” to the casting directors, while white applicants were allowed in an given an interview.

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The two men accused the show’s producers of intentionally avoiding casting black participants to avoid the subject of interracial dating — which could alienate the predominantly white audience. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are, they argued, “examples of purposeful segregation in the media that perpetuates racial stereotypes and denies persons of color of opportunities in the entertainment industry.”

The two men charged that the show violated their rights under a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in forming contracts. They asked the court to order the show to stop discriminating, and to consider non-whites as finalists for the roles of bachelor and bachelorette.

The judge sided with the show’s producers, ruling that their casting decisions are free expression protected by the First Amendment. The court invoked a 1995 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the organizers of a Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade could keep out an Irish-American gay, lesbian and bisexual group, even though Massachusetts had a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Supreme Court said that “the speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message” — a principle that applies to the producers of The Bachelor, as well.

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Claybrooks and Johnson may be wrong on the law, but they have a point to make on the facts.  The contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are far whiter than the country. The shows may be dreck, but television and pop culture shape public opinion. When Star Trek aired one of television’s first interracial kisses, it chipped away at racial barriers. Vice President Joe Biden was right when he said on Meet the Press earlier this year that Will and Grace did a whole lot to change public opinion about gay marriage.

Even if the First Amendment protects the producers’ right to use casting decisions that bear an uncomfortable relation to social mores of Alabama in 1950, that does not mean it is the right thing to do. The lawsuit put an uncomfortable spotlight on the show’s practices — and as NPR has pointed out, may well have had an effect. It appears that after seasons in which there have been no minority contestants, the next season of The Bachelor will have four black women. It is not exactly putting Thurgood Marshall or Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, but if we really want a society in which all groups are included, even our drivelly television should not discriminate.

MORE: Why We Still Need Affirmative Action

28 comments
nikman2012
nikman2012

Considering the discrimination lawsuit recently came to a close, I think it is ironic how Sean Lowe had a more diverse selection of women to choose from last season.

It was frustrating seeing comments posted on the internet that support The Bachelor/The Bachelorette’s lack of diversity. Just imagine how a diverse cast could amplify the show's content, instead of glorifying getting drunk, having sex, and gossiping, the show could investigate the different contestants’ethnicities.

As a result of the lawsuit, I set out to study whether individuals can identify with contestants of another race. I conducted my research through two focus groups and found that individuals from both groups could cross cultural barriers and identify with a person of a different race.

Check out this link for more information on my study: http://cboulton2013.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/sea-of-multi-colored-roses/


curt3rd
curt3rd

Affirmative action for reality tv shows.  Thats funny

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

The Bachelor and all programs are products.  The makers hope you will like it and "buy" it by "spending" your time watching.  The model is not much different from any other business.  If the network thought that having men date camels would get people to watch they would do it but they know there isn't a large market for men with camels and so they don't.  The same holds true in this case.  If the show were in China they wouldn't case Americans.  If the show were in Africa, they wouldn't case Chinese people.  Yes, blacks are a percentage of the American population but typically you go after the largest market which is not the black market.  Next.

whitey88
whitey88

oh wait black people sueing over stupid stuff not surprised. did it occur to you black people didnt try out for the show either that or we white folks are tired of seeing black people everywhere we go. maybe if black people got off their butt and got a real job we would be less discriminating

quiettimequilts
quiettimequilts

@blackgirlgrown Of course it does! A non-white bachelor/ette? That'll be the day. Love the shows but know I will not see that any time soon.

MTVCelebrity
MTVCelebrity

@TIME @timeideas this article is so stupid&is making something out of nothing.WE ALL want @SeanLowe09 to be the next bachelor,stop the drama

MTVCelebrity
MTVCelebrity

@TIME @timeideas this article is so stupid and is making something out of nothing. WE ALL want @SeanLowe09 to be the next bachelor, bai ✌

MTVCelebrity
MTVCelebrity

@TIME @timeideas this article is so stupid. We want @SeanLowe09 to be the next bachelor!

MrKinardworld
MrKinardworld

@TIME @timeideas,No.I've realized that some shows are not for black men. The fact of the matter is the show want ratings. No fat people too.

sanchoaxelrod
sanchoaxelrod

@TIME @TIMEIdeas @theviewtv @abc They discriminate against alot of people. It's sad most people don't want to see it, esp. Women.

Haikatrine
Haikatrine

@TIME @TIMEIdeas Hmmmm. Maybe, depends upon how many black men have tried to sign up and been denied. Any black bachelorettes?

artbyyou
artbyyou

@TIME @TIMEIdeas oh wait, why don't you just start a black bachelor and not let anyone else on, there you go

artbyyou
artbyyou

@TIME @TIMEIdeas and if I don't like obomba I'm a racist? but if you are black and don't like Romney what does that mean?

MOTHERHUSTLER
MOTHERHUSTLER

@TIME :Of Course it does! Legally it CAN! SCARY FOR PRIME-TIME PLAYERS; JIM CROW TV! So glad I never watched this RACIST SHOW!;( !;)PEACE

artbyyou
artbyyou

@TIME @TIMEIdeas you must be kidding, black caucus, black dating, black entertainment awards, I could go on, but please shut up

cobweb20
cobweb20

@TIME @TIMEIdeas No way..................

JasonDStanfield
JasonDStanfield

soooo..... BET is not discriminatory?  it seems 'white people' have to include 'black people' but it would never be the opposite.rules for some and rules for others. but wait.... only whites are racist. ask Chris Rock when he calls a white person 'Cracker' or 'whitebread'if he's being racist.... and i dont care about history because it is exactly that.... History!! 

Nathaniel_M_Campbell
Nathaniel_M_Campbell

Maybe after 16 seasons, we can all wake up from this perverted delusion that The Bachelor is anything other than voyeuristic and demeaning trash.

SaraRose
SaraRose

The Bachelor and other reality shows discriminate, in the main, against good TV.

neetrab25
neetrab25

@whitey88  Just like how I'm  not surprised white people sue over stupid stuff.  And how can you see black people everywhere when blacks are barely 10% of the country, dumba**.

neetrab25
neetrab25

@JasonDStanfield  Name me one white person who's tried to be on BET.  Can't think of any?  Then, shut up with that nonsense about how BET is discriminatory.  If whites aren't trying to be on BET, then you have absolutely NOTHING to comment on regarding BET.  Why would a white person try to get on that program when they can be on so many others that have a bigger audience, dummy?