One Black Woman’s Campaign To Be “The Bachelorette”

And The Problem With Fighting For The Approval Of White People


Out of all of the reality shows on television, The Bachelorette is probably the most Eurocentric. The Bachelorette is probably much more Eurocentric than Duck Dynasty or that other show about the Mormon sister wives. Why any black person would campaign to be in spaces where they will surely be maligned and singled out for their blackness is beyond me. I mean, what exactly is the gain here? Are there no other dating reality shows that you can pull a cute white boy from? And more importantly, who are you trying to prove stuff to, and why?

Well, in this essay on The Huffington Post entitled “See Me As a Woman First, a Black Woman Second,” the petitioner, also know as Dr. Misee Harris, a pediatric and sports dentist, model, philanthropist, and founder of something called Project Smile, explains herself. She says that her campaign to become the first black bachelorette on the show is a call-to-action for Hollywood to resist tired troupes of black womanhood and portray black women as regular women. More specifically, she writes:

Last year, I applied to be on the ABC hit show, the Bachelor, and I was picked. What seemed like a great accomplishment at first, soon fell sour. It quickly occurred to me that I was cast in order to fill a quota: The token black girl who gets voted off in the first round, but who can surely fill the show with plenty of drama and fighting. That is not who I am, and it is not how I will represent black women. I realized it was time to shake things up, so instead of accepting the offer to appear on the Bachelor, I started a petition to be the first black Bachelorette. “Why shouldn’t I be the one handing out those iconic roses to an array of suitors?”

Well, one year and multiple media appearances later, I’ve had quite a ride, but I haven’t been given the opportunity by ABC to hand out those roses. And, here’s the thing; it’s no wonder that a black Bachelorette on ABC’s prime time lineup has been out of the question. We, black women, are marginalized by these played-out stereotypes. Therefore, we are not being looked at as attractive, vital and educated women who would be desirable to a wide cross-section of men.

For some reason, no matter what progress has been made, the media continues portraying black women in the same stereotypical way for entertainment’s sake. But are producers, writers and executives solely to blame for this disturbing cultural chasm? After all, there are many black women who are ready and willing to fill those roles in, both, reality and scripted television for their shot at fame, no matter how much it destroys our progress.

So it’s the other black women’s fault you haven’t been chosen to star in a show, which admittedly only chooses black people as quota-fillers? If you ask me, it sounds like Dr. Harris should be thanking these rowdy and ratchet women for sparing her the indignity of it all. But I’ll let her continue on with blaming black women for white racism:

If white women can be considered entertaining without falling into these cartoonish roles, why can’t black women? At nearly 30-years-old, I can honestly say I do not relate to any of these black woman I see on television. I have never pulled anyone’s hair out, I have never punched a girl in the face, nor do I verbally express myself by using gratuitous profanity. I am a professional, a doctor, and a woman of decorum who feels it is time for the mainstream media to allow black female characters, both on reality television, and in scripted television, to reflect black women in real life.

Then why, oh why, are you campaigning to go on a reality show?

Seriously, television seems like a place with the least amount of benefits for a dentist of Dr. Harris’ stature to use her talents and fancy-smancy “decorum.” That’s because television is all about exploitation for the purpose of entertainment, ratings, and ultimately advertising dollars. And even as white women have a plethora of characters to represent them, a great deal of them are not the beacon of respectability and normalcy as Dr. Harris thinks. More statistically accurate, this study from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (I know right) finds that two types of female caricatures are most prevalent in over 4,000 characters across 400 G, PG, PG-13, and R-rated movies: the traditional woman and the hyper-sexual.

So forgive me if the idea of aspiring to climb the ladder of “progress” from invisibility into just as subjugating and limiting portrayals does not warrant the same sort of motivation in me either.

Now don’t get me wrong, I agree with Dr. Harris to an extent: The myth of hyper-sexuality and violence are stereotypes, which black women have had to bear since their forced arrival upon these shores. Likewise, Hollywood has a long way to go to produce black women characters on television and in film, which are both fluid and nuanced. However, I also believe that the lack of diversity of us on film and television (even when it is us producing the content) also comes from the overt policing we do of ourselves, in hopes that we will be seen visually, verbally and physically in “the right way.” You know, the right way that doesn’t inspire raised eyebrows and a chorus of “See, I told you black people were all like that” from the white gaze – because that is what’s truly at the center of such fears.

Meanwhile, the Desperate Housewives, Lena Dunhams and Carrie Bradshaws of television are critically lauded for boldly claiming their sexuality and overall ratchetness (because folks are going to have a hard time convincing me that Sex and the City wasn’t a haute couture pile of ratchetness), whereas black women in particular are routinely disrespected and stigmatized for showing any sort of emotion outside of Claire Huxtable-refinement.

As pointed out in this essay Tamara Winfrey Harris entitled, “Black women and the burden of respectability“:

…respectability has been important for marginalized people throughout history. Black women’s clubs that formed in the early 20th century, spearheaded by women like Ida B. Wells, uplifted the black community and “proved” the respectability of African-American women by replicating similar organizations led by white women. Black civil rights activists showed up at marches and protests in their Sunday best—despite discomfort, and sometimes only to be spat on or sprayed by fire hoses. Those jackets and ties, heels and hats, sent a message: Your stereotypes are untrue; we deserve equality; we, too, are respectable. Jackson notes, “Assimilation was an effective way to join the national conversation at a time when there was a great disparity in not just the visibility of black Americans, but in the opportunity and legal protections afforded them.”

Negative views of blackness have surely not disappeared in the 21st century. And the black community still uses respectability politics as a form of resistance. But perhaps now more than ever—when there are so many different ways to be black and to be a woman—respectability politics have the potential to harm as much as uplift. As often happens, black women carry a double burden, as they are asked to uphold a respectability built on both racist and sexist foundations. And the burden isn’t just about professional decisions—say, which roles an actress should choose—but personal ones as well.

Honestly, if Dr. Harris wants to be the star of The Bachelorette, she should continue with her campaign and make that happen. Despite what the paragraphs above may suggest, I actually think she has a good campaign just on the merit of wanting to see a black woman do the choosing as opposed to being the chosen (or in a black woman’s case, the eliminated). But what I find most disheartening about her agenda, is the need to drag and malign other women, particularly black women, under the guise of showing a softer side of black people/women. What’s even more disheartening is for someone to do this for the attention of the white gaze in hopes that they will choose you.

I can understand Dr. Harris wanting to try to break stereotypes, but can we first start with the one about being crabs in the barrel? Besides, who in their right minds would look at the concept of The Bachelorette as the epitome of class and sophistication anyway?