Monday nights. We don’t celebrate them because the first day of the week has finally come to an end. We celebrate Monday nights because The Bachelor franchise has claimed one night of our week as theirs, and we happily gave it to them. It is the one part of the week where we can sit down with a glass of wine and indulge in the best type of drama—the kind that isn’t our own.
In the midst of the events of the Black Lives Matter movement, The Bachelor franchise attempted to take part in this shift towards racial equality by announcing their choice of lead for Season 25 of The Bachelor as Matt James, the show’s first Black Bachelor. But all the excitement built up by fans could not hide how problematic it is to cast Matt James and call him the first Black Bachelor.
The producers’ choice made waves in Bachelor Nation, as this was the first time The Bachelor would have a Black lead after its debut in 2002. With the momentum of the most recent season of The Bachelorette featuring the show’s second ever Black female lead Tayshia Adams, it would seem like the franchise is transitioning from its days of lacking diversity.
Matt James, born and raised in North Carolina, is 29 years old and lists his occupation as a real estate agent in New York City. Though leads from The Bachelor traditionally tend to come from the list of previous contestants from The Bachelorette, Matt James never made a previous appearance in the franchise.
As excitement built for the coming diversity of the newest season, fans found damning information in Matt James’ background that contradicts with the producers’ intentions of using James as a token of The Bachelor’s progressivism. On a The Bachelor subreddit eight months ago, a Redditor shared screenshots of James’ voter information that revealed him to be registered as a Republican voter in New York. However, he has changed his status to “not enrolled in a party” before the premiere of his season and has not given details about his political affiliations since accepting his role on The Bachelor. Despite his efforts to be vague about his political views, James’ mother Patty can be found following Republican–leaning accounts on Instagram.
Despite discussions on social media regarding Matt James’ political views, there was still excitement for Season 25, which announced its most diverse group of women in the show’s history. But all the efforts came to naught in the season’s premiere when James, right before meeting the women for the first time, pulled host Chris Harrison aside for a one–to–one conversation. He said, “People want you to end up with a certain type of person," referring to the pressure he experiences as the first Black Bachelor. “You’ve got people who are cheering for you to find love, and you’ve got people who are cheering for you to end up with a specific person. A specific person of a specific race.” This jarring conversation only reinforces James’ perceived disinterest in dating a woman of color.
Bachelor Nation was not only excited for their lead and the diversity in the group of candidates, but also the possible conversations regarding race and the Black Lives Matter movement. That being said, Matt James’ season has been lackluster in that category so far. Conversations relevant to race have been focused on Matt James’ biracial background. James tends to shun the label of Blackness put on him by the producers, while he is continually advertised as the first Black Bachelor. Considering that he was raised by his white mother and is regularly surrounded by white friends on social media, there seems to be a certain awkwardness in this clash of the labels.
Though Matt James is indeed a person of color, it is not for The Bachelor to define the Black experience through him alone. Some even argue that he is a better representation of the lives of the franchise’s predominantly white viewers. This entire situation demonstrates how lazy The Bachelor’s efforts to diversify their cast really are. Are they bringing in a more diverse cast to truly exhibit equal representation on their historically white show? Or are they bringing in BIPOC contestants and leads as mere tokens for the franchise to claim that they have changed their tune post–BLM?
If we want to continue to enjoy Bachelor Mondays in good conscience, we must acknowledge that the producers of The Bachelor and all its spin–offs still have work to do, which is reinforced after the scandal that followed Chris Harrison’s excuses for Rachael Kirkconnell’s past racist behavior. They need to cast more BIPOC leads and contestants and represent them in such a way so that their backgrounds are not overlooked for the sake of drama or to appeal to their heavily white audience, but rather to represent each cast member's background accurately. That is real diversity.