Could America Handle a Black Bachelor?

On Wednesday, Nashville residents Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson filed a lawsuit against the team of human Thomas Kinkade paintings behind The Bachelor, claiming that the show has deliberately excluded people of color during its 23 seasons and that they weren't cast because they're black. Meanwhile, in the terrible land of auditions for this fall's season of The Bachelor, Oregon-based sportscaster Lamar Hurd, who is also black, is reportedly in a final round of talks to star in this fall's season of the show. But could The Bachelor's network TV-viewing audience handle watching a black man date a whole houseful of ladies?

Producers call the lawsuit baseless and have claimed in the past that there's simply not enough interest from non-white people (although this one Bachelorette was like 1/16 Cherokee or something! That's diversity, right?), but according the plaintiffs, that's simply not the case. In 2007, both Claybrooks and Johnson auditioned for the show but were turned away. They allege that there's no reason for their exclusion— both are professional, good looking dudes with decent jobs who are involved in their community. Claybrooks played professional football for 10 years before retiring in 2011, and he now owns a barber shop and an auto detailing shop. Johnson is a teacher, former football standout, and high school football coach who plans to enlist in the Air Force.

With Hurd poised to possibly become The Bachelor's black friend ("We're not racist, we have a black friend!" — that kind of black friend) and a lawsuit throwing shade at the popular network dating show, the show's soon going to have to confront an issue that it's skirted thus far — Americans' lingering discomfort with interracial relationships, and specifically, relationships between black men and non-black women. Whether or not the show itself is racist, exclusion of racial minorities from the title role shows that at the very least, the people behind The Bachelor have an extremely low opinion of their viewing audience's ability to deal with watching people of different races kiss each other.

As some commenters pointed out in a previous post about this, if ABC casts a black Bachelor and fills the house with black women, it runs the risk of creating a "black show," which will negatively impact its primarily white, primarily female viewership. But if it fills the house with people of all races, the show runs the risk of giving people who still aren't on board with interracial marriage or black man/white woman relationships an aneurism. As shitty as it feels to say this, in some parts of the country, we're not that far removed, collectively, from the black guy panic reflected in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? A poll taken last year showed that only 40% of Mississippi Republicans believe that interracial marriage should be legal. Googling "Would you let your daughter marry a black man?" yields more than 45 million English results. And while 86% of respondents to a national poll say they support interracial marriage, only 66% of people over 65 approve, and only 79% of people in the American South and 77% of Republicans approve. It's not just a black-white issue, either; Latino and Asian parents aren't always excited to see their daughters paired off with black men, regardless of his merits or accomplishments. It's totally unfair, and it sucks. But it's there.

It's true that no one shat their pants or burned down VH1 when interracial relationships were featured on Flavor of Love, but that show's an entirely different animal than The Bachelor franchise. Cable shows are made for cable audiences, and no one tunes into VH1 to watch people fall in love in the midst of an artificial princess fantasy world and live vicariously through its cast. The Bachelor plays with its contestants like they're Barbies in a sadistic harem reduction ritual and surrounds them with cliched tropes of western romance. Long-stemmed red roses. Makeout sessions in outdoor Swiss chalet hot tubs. Glasses of bubbling champagne and Celebration Hair and impossibly expensive rings presented in a grand romantic gesture planned out by a team of writers and producers, not the participants themselves. People tune in to cable dating shows to gawk and to The Bachelor to emulate, to project.

I know this because I'm a shame watcher of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and, most shamefully, Bachelor Pad. I'm also a shame obsessor over these shows; when I've gotten sucked into a season, I'd spend about an hour or so post-show reading message boards on ABC's website for the show. This is my most embarrassing secret. The real hard core, serious fans who aren't hatewatching the show for the awkwardness get really adamant about which contestants they like the best and which ones can take a long walk off a short, rose petal strewn pier. Some of them believe what they're seeing is real. They support their favorite contestant like they'd support a blood relative or a best friend. "Don't marry Vienna, Jake! I'm begging you!!!!" and "COURTNEY IS LYING!!!!" and "Ed is a CHEATER!" are some great examples of posts I saw repeated hundreds of times over the many hours I've wasted lurking on those stupid boards.

Would prominently featuring a black man on the Miss America of dating shows alienate the assholes who still think black and (insert other race here) people shouldn't fall in love? Probably. But should their outdated discomfort dictate what everyone else watches? Perhaps some immersion therapy will cure what ails — ABC's got a real chance to take a stupid show and use it as a tool to help normalize interracial relationships for the few people still stuck in the 1950's. Let's hope they make the right choice.