Race can be funny. Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and most recently, Jordan Peele (with Get Out) have all proven that being honest about the things that make us different can sometimes bring us together, under the collective banner of a shared laugh. But there is a very fine line between funny and offensive, or just really weird.
Many people watched that line get crossed last night when Rachel Lindsay got to pre-screen four of her Bachelorette suitors after The Bachelor finale. When Dean, a suitor who isn’t Black, told Rachel that he was “ready to go Black and [he’s] never going back,” he proved that he is, above all else, super corny. More importantly, he gave ABC and the rest of the Bachelorette contestants watching a blueprint for what not to do.
By stumbling over it, Dean made the line that exists between fake diversity and actual inclusivity, between racial humor and racism, quip and microaggression, appreciation and fetishization — very clear. The challenge for this season of The Bachelorette, the first of the franchise to feature a Black lead, is going to be staying on the right side of that line at all costs. This is bigger than sparing viewers any more painfully awkward moments or keeping Lindsay from shifting through uncomfortable commentary about her race all season. It’s about embracing the real diversity that the franchise desperately needs without tokenizing people of color or relying on tired tropes about interracial dating to do so.
Diversity works best when we leave room for honest expressions of cultural and racial nuance. Fortunately, there was a great example of this during Rachel’s surprise visits. The impromptu dance session between her and Eric is one that the trained eye can recognize as an authentically Black moment. No one explicitly mentioned race, the showrunners didn’t turn on rap music to egg them on. When Eric did a little jig and said “aaaayyyee!” Rachel instinctively knew what to do because of how dance works as a form of expression for a lot of Black folks. If ABC can keep up those moments, and productive dialogues between Rachel and her non-Black suitors, The Bachelorette is going to be lit.