The Signal

An Admission, a Question on Grace

- Tim WHYTE BLACK’N’WHYTE Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

I’ve got a secret. Please don’t think less of me. But I have a guilty pleasure. I watch “The Bachelor.” And “The Bacheloret­te.” And “Bachelors in Paradise.”

The whole damn franchise. I know. It’s wrong to watch. And I can’t even, like so many guys do, say, “My wife MAKES me watch it.” I do it voluntaril­y.

But, like watching a train wreck in slow motion, once you see it, you can’t look away.

I’m even in a “Bachelor” fantasy pool with some people close to me, though I won’t say who, because I don’t know if they would want to admit it publicly. Going into the final episodes of this season, I’m in the lead, and poised for the win, with Rachael Kirkconnel­l as my last remaining contestant. Yes. THAT Rachael.

The one who made news the past couple weeks because it was revealed that, a few years ago, in college, she attended an “Old South” sorority party, complete with fancy Antebellum-style dresses.

That in turn prompted the woke police on social media to stalk her social media, seeking evidence of past racist behavior, and they found some things. A former high school classmate accused her of mocking other students who dated Black boys. She once attended a party in which the attendees dressed in Native American garb. None of it was a good look. Does it make her a racist? The woke police say yes. People even started looking into her parents’ voting records. Because after all, if you vote Republican, you’re a racist by definition. Right?

As it happens, the Bachelor whose affections Rachael seeks is Matt James, who is Black. In the most recent episode, she professed her love for Matt — so at least on camera, she doesn’t seem to have a problem with the color of his skin. (I’m not afraid to say, Matt IS quite dreamy…) She has made the cut to be one of the final three ladies vying for Matt’s final rose — and presumably a glitzy diamond engagement ring from (Product Placement Alert!) star jeweler Neil Lane.

All of this, of course, was prerecorde­d before the “Old South” party from a few years ago blew up on social media, so it remains to be seen how their romance will play out — and how it will end.

But it will end. James has issued a statement expressing disappoint­ment in what he’s learned about Rachael’s past behavior, and word on the blogs is he and the lady who gets the final rose are no longer together. So one way or another, it ends between them.

The kerfuffle over “Racist Rachael” prompted the show’s host, Chris Harrison, to engage in an “Extra” Q&A with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bacheloret­te. She quizzed him about his take on Rachael’s past behavior.

And, apparently not thinking so quickly on his feet, Harrison was a tad bit dismissive.

“We all need to have a little grace, a little understand­ing, a little compassion. Because I have seen some stuff online — this judge, jury, executione­r thing where people are just tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into, like, her parents, her parents’ voting record,” Harrison said. “I haven’t heard Rachael speak on this yet. Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this? I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that’s it.”

“Is it a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021?” Harrison continued.

“It’s not a good look ever because she’s celebratin­g the Old South,” Lindsay replied. “If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?”

“I don’t disagree with you,” Harrison said. “You’re 100% right — in 2021. That was not the case in 2018. Again, I’m not defending Rachael. I just know, I don’t know, 50 million people did that in 2018 — that was a type of party that a lot of people went to… My guess? These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time, they were 18 years old. Now, does that make it OK? I don’t know, Rachel, you tell me. Were we all looking through [that lens] in 2018?”

Ooof.

Boy, Chris. You walked right into that one. You’ve always seemed like a smart guy, but you should have seen this buzzsaw coming from a mile away.

Next thing you know, Harrison himself gets branded a racist, and he’s stepping aside from, at least, the final episode of this season, which has yet to be recorded.

He apologized, but the damage was done. It even got to the point where viewers complained because Harrison showed up as a guest contestant on “Wheel of Fortune,” where he was trying to raise money for charity, the Feeding America hunger relief organizati­on. His appearance was taped in December.

Why do I bring all this up? After all, why on Earth would I publicly admit to watching “The Bachelor,” and risk the ration of you-know-what my admission will bring from family, friends and colleagues?

It’s about the question of what this means not only for how we talk about race, but also what the measure of “racist” is.

The show has become a focal point of the nation’s conversati­on about race. It’s the latest installmen­t in the debate about where the bar is, not only for racist behavior, but also for what’s sufficient behavior to label someone a racist, destroying their lives and careers. In some cases, people are being “canceled” as racists not for a slur, or overt racism, but for simply not being anti-racist enough to satisfy those who stand in judgment, which these days is anyone with a smartphone.

This is not the first time the “Bachelor” franchise has been criticized on race. They had a long run of contestant­s who made the screen look like a collection of white cats drinking milk in a snowstorm.

But they’ve tried to shift that, too, with two Black Bacheloret­tes in recent seasons, and now James as the Bachelor. Is it a sincere effort to make the show more diverse, or is it tokenism? Either way, they get criticized because people attack based on their own assumption­s about what they see, and how they interpret it.

As with anything, there are levels of racism. Throwing on a white hood and attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting: Definitely a racist. Addressing someone with a racial slur: 100% racist behavior.

If you have a swastika tattoo, we don’t need a conversati­on — I’m sure you’re a racist.

Putting on a puffy dress and attending a 2018 sorority party whose theme was tied to an ugly chapter of our nation’s history — is it racist?

Does it depend on intent? Can it merely demonstrat­e ignorance, and if so, does that matter?

The definition of what’s racist is being broadened, to the point where even questionin­g whether someone like Harrison or Rachael is being treated fairly puts you at risk of, yourself, being publicly tagged as a racist.

“A little grace,” as Harrison put it, is a little too much now.

There is no room for, “Hey, heads up. You’re ignorant and you have work to do. Let’s talk about it.”

Instead, it jumps to: “You’re a racist and an awful human being and we need to ruin your life. Now.”

What does all this mean for “The Bachelor”? Bloggers are saying the show had already chosen next season’s Bacheloret­te, but have now backed off that choice. She was a white woman who had been eliminated on Matt’s season.

Theoretica­lly, a new choice will be made — and whoever it is will be scrutinize­d and judged based on the color of their skin, which is if nothing else ironic, because isn’t the whole idea to judge people based on the color of their skin?

Regardless, my confession continues. I will watch. Because whoever the Bachelor or Bacheloret­te is, whatever the color of their skin, one thing is certain: The show will continue to be that slow-motion train wreck it’s always been.

And I can’t stop watching one of those.

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