EW asked Harrison to describe the men this season, which features the series' first Black star ever, Rachel Lindsay. "The house always takes the shape or the personality of the Bachelor or Bachelorette," he explained, "and so with Rachel, it took the form of a little bit older, a little bit more professional, and a little more serious because that’s who she is." Then he made this unfortunate statement: "It’s a very diverse cast, but at the same time, very professional."
The problematic implication here is that a cast being diverse is at odds with a cast being professional. It's an incredibly racist assumption made subtle. In much cruder words: "Even though a lot of the guys are Black and you might assume they're jobless, they actually have great careers." I mean, ask yourself this: Can you picture Harrison saying, "It's a very white cast, but at the same time, very professional"? Exactly.
Now, I seriously doubt that this is what Harrison meant; he's been Lindsay's biggest supporter since day one, and has spoken at length about how important it was to him to create a diverse roster of suitors. (Harrison's rep and ABC declined to comment or clarify.) But to brush off Harrison's unintentionally off-putting comment would be a mistake, because his words are reflective of the kind of implicit racial bias that exists in this country. They betray a persistent and damaging stereotype about Black men: that they're not hardworking, responsible, ambitious, successful professionals.
Harrison's statement is a reminder of the fact that the language we use truly matters. It also reinforces the reality that this is all new territory for the Bachelor franchise, including its host. And this surely won't be the last misstep on the series' part this season when it comes to discussing and portraying race and racial issues. But if Lindsay's season of The Bachelorette can start discussions about the important subtleties of the ways we view and talk about Black men (and women) every day in this country — before it's even started — then it's going to be even more compelling TV than we thought.
The Bachelorette premieres Monday, May 22 at 9 p.m. on ABC.