The Complicated Way Race Plays Into The Bachelor In Paradise Scandal

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
My only excuse for tuning in to the latest season of the Bachelorette, the first of the franchise I’ve ever dutifully watched, is that I will follow Black women to strange places. There is nothing alluring to me about the premise, one that relies on extremely rigid clichés about heteronormative love. But I've played along, because Rachel Lindsay is breaking barriers, and just because I don’t believe in this specific fairy tale, that doesn’t mean that it should be off limits to Black people in general. Also I didn’t need to be a citizen of Bachelor Nation to know that the group of Black men in Lindsay’s contestant pool was yet another sign of progress for the series.
I don’t believe that acceptance from white TV audiences validates the lives of Black people. But throughout this season of The Bachelorette, it has been nice to imagine and hope that a show like this is starting to envision a world where eligible partners exist across racial lines. Black people deserve to be there as much as anyone else. To put it simply: This Bachelor cycle meant something to me. And even though I knew not all of the Black contestants would get a happy ending (I doubt The Bachelorette will ever open itself up to polyamory), I was rooting for them.
So you can imagine how conflicted I feel about the recent events that halted production on the Bachelor in Paradise. A producer is suing the show for misconduct after allegedly witnessing DeMario Jackson sexually assault Corinne Olympios while the contestant was incapacitated from intoxication. The details of what happened are still very murky, so I won’t even bother speculating. I don’t mean that in the way of a rape apologist, insisting someone has to “prove” to me that they were sexually assaulted. I just mean the only details that have been confirmed are that both DeMario and Corinne were drunk, sexual contact between them was filmed, and at least one third party thought that combination of circumstances added up to workplace misconduct.
But when a Black man is accused of sexually assaulting a white woman, history has a way of speaking for itself. The racist stereotype persists that Black men are criminal, and that their sexuality poses a threat to white women. It's a trope that Black communities still have to actively resist in our interactions with white people.
When I first heard the news, I was deeply disappointed in DeMario. I expected him to know "the rule" — the one all Black Americans are taught from a very young age: We have to work twice as hard for half as much. "He never should have been in the pool with a drunk, naked white girl," I thought. "He never should have assumed that the producers and their voyeuristic cameras would exculpate him from headlines like these." "He should have known better." I thought all of these things. I know it’s not fair. DeMario should be just as entitled to drunken debauchery in Mexico as the next Bachelorette reject. It sucks. But as too many of us know, that’s just the way it is.
I certainly don’t agree with those online who are comparing Corinne to the white woman who lied and said Black teenager Emmett Till whistled at her in 1955, prompting a racist mob to violently lynch him. DeMario is still alive, and could very well reap some benefits from this situation, which is more than we can say in the tragic case of Till. Nor do I identify with those who think Corinne was acting out the classic fetishisation of Black men and their dicks, and then crying rape when knowledge of her desires became public. Corinne isn’t the person who blew the whistle here. In fact, unconfirmed reports from TMZ suggest that she doesn’t blame DeMario for what happened at all. And I definitely don’t support the slut-shaming leveraged at Corinne for daring to be a woman, and drunk, and sexual.
And yet, my support for Corinne and disappointment in DeMario feel in conflict with the questions nagging me about this situation. Of all of the drunken hookups that happen on Bachelor in Paradise, why was this one flagged as foul? What was it about their encounter that suddenly called into question the moral fibre of the entire show when, for four years, the spin-off relied on a recipe of booze and sexual tension? With so little substantial information available to us, I can only speculate answers at this point. But as I said before, history has a way of speaking for itself.

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series