How Matt James’ D.C. riot remarks fit into ‘Bachelor’s’ evolving treatment of race
Matt James, the first Black “Bachelor” in the history of ABC’s blockbuster franchise, has spoken out against Wednesday’s violent attack on the Capitol Building. He pointed to the marked difference between the heavy law enforcement response to a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C., over the summer, and the response to a mob of pro-Donald Trump extremists who stormed the seat of the U.S. Congress amid months of conspiracy theories about election fraud spread by the president since his loss to President-elect Joe Biden in November.
“Yesterday, as we watched riots take place inside our Capitol we’re reminded yet again we’re living in two different Americas,” James posted Thursday on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.
James, who is starring in the current season of the series, which launched this week, referenced last June’s protest in the plaza near Washington’s Lafayette Park, where U.S. Park police and National Guard troops used tear gas to disperse the massive crowd so that Trump could walk to a nearby church for a photo opportunity.
“As a Black man who saw how peaceful protestors were handled this summer, I know a group of Black and Brown rioters would not have been dealt with the same way,” James wrote.
“We need to address the hypocrisy and injustice in our country to set a better example for the next generation. I’m praying for America in 2021, and to say nothing is saying something.” James ended with emojis of a Black fist and the American flag.
James’ comments were particularly notable because “The Bachelor” franchise has come under continual criticism during its 18-year, 41-season run for its resistance to featuring a Black man as the lead. The show in the past fought a legal challenge to feature Black leads, and has been hit by charges of racism.
In this week’s premiere, James, who Vulture reports was once a registered Republican, acknowledged the pressure and responsibility he felt as the first Black “Bachelor.” Some of the female participants seeking his affections congratulated him for his courage.
Traditionally, the show’s leads tend to avoid expressing their political beliefs while their seasons are on the air. The emphasis of the franchise is on romantic love, often sidestepping or downplaying topical issues.
The previous Bachelor, Delta Airlines pilot Peter Weber, offered no insight into his own ideological leanings, save for his support of the Seattle Seahawks. In January 2017, a few weeks after his stint as “The Bachelor” started, Nick Viall attended a Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles, though he did not post on social media about the event.
But in an apparent response to the ongoing criticisms, recent installments of the Warner Bros.-produced reality show have been noticeably more diverse, particularly in the pool of suitors. And the series has slowly started to include political conversations.
For ‘The Bachelorette’ and ‘Big Brother,’ two series with fraught histories around race, meaningful treatment of the subject has been a challenge.
Clare Crawley, who became the “Bachelorette” in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality against Black men last spring, was not shown talking about the social uprising with any of the contestants on her season — despite the fact that she became engaged to Dale Moss, who is biracial. But Tayshia Adams, who was named the “Bachelorette” after Crawley departed her season prematurely to be with Moss, addressed the Black Lives Matter movement head-on in a discussion with one of her suitors, Ivan Hall.
Hall, whose brother was once incarcerated, said the police killing of George Floyd “hit home” because his sibling had faced abuse at the hands of correctional officers. “I’m realizing that I’ve been trying so hard my whole life to blend in because I knew I was different,” responded Adams, who like Hall is biracial. “I just remember hearing people yell ‘Black Lives Matter.’ … It hit me more than I realize just because those are people in my backyard that I’ve been trying to prove for so long that I’m the same as them.”
Before “Bachelorette” Becca Kufrin’s season began airing in May 2018, social media sleuths found that one of her male suitors, Garett Yrigoyen, had liked a series of racist and sexist Instagram posts. Yrigoyen — who received Kufrin’s first-impression rose in the season premiere — liked posts mocking Parkland shooting survivors, undocumented immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
By the second episode, he had issued an apology on his Instagram account, saying he’d learned “an extremely valuable lesson” and was “taking steps to grow, become more educated, and be a better version of myself.” Kufrin ultimately got engaged to Yrigoyen but the couple split last September in part due to their political differences.
On “Bachelor Happy Hour,” the ABC-sponsored podcast she cohosts with former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay, Kufrin revealed that Yrigoyen’s support of the Blue Lives Matter movement had caused friction in their relationship. “You don’t have to be riding around with white sheets on to be doing things that are racist,” an impassioned Lindsay told Kufrin. “I know Garrett has a good heart, but the fact that he is willing to equate Blue Lives Matter to Black Lives Matter shows me that you don’t get it. Garrett is not an idiot. ... You are not willing to unlearn the world that you live in.”
On Andy Cohen’s ‘Watch What Happens Live,’ former ‘Bachelorette’ Rachel Lindsay said a ‘racist contestant’ was cast on her season of the TV show.
Lindsay, who was “The Bachelorette’s” first Black lead in 2017, had to deal with a similar controversy on her own season, when fans found that one of her contestants, Lee Garrett, had sent tweets comparing the NAACP to the KKK and claiming feminists can’t be “pretty.”
Garrett was later confronted about his sentiments by a number of Black contestants on the season’s “Men Tell All” special, one of whom, Josiah Graham, asked him to explain “why you came on a show where the Bachelorette was an African-American woman, if on the other hand you’re tweeting about Black people and groups of Black people who fought and died so I can be on this stage next to you.”
Following Lindsay’s season, franchise creator Mike Fleiss attributed the ratings dip during her tenure to Bachelor Nation’s “Trumpish” attitudes: “I found it incredibly disturbing in a Trumpish kind of way,” Fleiss told the New York Times in 2018. “How else are you going to explain the fact that she’s down in the ratings, when — Black or white — she was an unbelievable Bachelorette? It revealed something about our fans.”
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