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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Surprise! ‘The Bachelorette’ Has a Blackface Problem

The franchise has apologized for its race problem, but this week’s finale didn't address a leaked photo of one of its finalists in blackface.

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Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

Season 19 of The Bachelorette came to a close Tuesday night, ending its cute experiment of employing two bachelorettes in one season à la the Super Bowl smooshing two Latina singers into one show for more…pizzazz. While The Ringer called the final episode of the two-part finale “A Three-Hour Horror Movie,” it appears the horror movie has only just begun.

Tuesday night’s episode saw the show’s new host, Jesse Palmer, ask the season’s co-leads, Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia, about a couple of recent scandals that took place after the show’s production ended. Recchia addressed her chosen suitor, Tino Franco, kissing another woman during their relationship (he stormed off the set twice.) And Windey, who gave her final rose to now-fiancée Erich Schwer, addressed text messages that Schwer reportedly sent to an ex-girlfriend right before joining the show. In case, unlike me, you were worried, she forgave him, and they’re working through it. “There’s lots of excitement. There’s also some fear, because you don’t know what you’re really walking into,” Windey told People. “It’s a whole new world post filming!”

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But one scandal—and arguably, the most concerning one—didn’t make the cut on the season’s three-hour, live finale episode, despite it being a solid opportunity to prove the DNA of the show has changed from its problematic (er, present) past. Earlier this month, fans circulated a viral Reddit post featuring an image of Schwer wearing blackface and an afro wig in his high school yearbook.

Schwer has since apologized in a textbook “listening and learning-style Instagram post of a black square with the following caption:

“I wholeheartedly apologize for the insensitive photo of me in Blackface from my high school yearbook that has been circulating. What I thought at the time was a representation of my love for Jimi Hendrix, was nothing but ignorance. I was naïve to the hurtful implications of my actions to the Black community and those closest to me, and will forever regret my offensive and damaging behavior. I am deeply ashamed by my actions and understand that my apology is only the first step in taking accountability.”

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While Windey didn’t initially comment on the photo (surely for fear of spoiling the winner of the show), she did tell People that she learned of the photo along with the rest of the world and was “incredibly shocked.”

“[I] just really had to process my thoughts and then think about how we can grow as a couple and learn from this,” she said. “Ultimately it was a time for us to take a step back and reflect on our relationship and see if we can get through this. You have to really lead on your communication, be really honest with each other while having these tough conversations. We’re seeing how we can become better from both.”

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Windey’s response certainly wraps a pleasant little bow around a pretty horrifying racial transgression, regardless of how long ago it happened. It’s great to see two public figures acknowledge and take accountability for harmful behavior—but it would be even better if we saw the show do the same. It’s honestly inexcusable that over the course of, again, a three-hour yawn of a season-ender, there weren’t even 30 seconds allotted to publicly discuss the repercussions of a “damaging” photo from the past. On a platform as big as The Bachelorette, that choice—or lack thereof—matters, especially given that the show has only had four Black leads in its history, in addition to a slew of accusations around racial inequity and insensitivity. Former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay once called the franchise the Bachelor Klan, and the show’s producers have vowed to do better.

Palmer promised Jezebel the finale would be “shocking.” But I don’t think this is quite what he meant.

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