For the first time this season, Rachel addresses the elephant in the room.
“I’m just saying, you don’t understand the pressures that are going to come with all of this. The pressures that I feel about being a Black woman and what that is and how …I don’t even want to talk about it.
I get pressured in so many different ways from being in this position. And I did not want to get into all of this tonight. I already know what people are going to say about me and judge me for the decisions I’m making. I’m going to be the one to deal with that, and nobody else. That’s a lot.”
Rachel says this to the camera at the top of the show, as a racial soap opera begins its opening act. She knows exactly what’s going on, but clearly she also feels the pressure keenly. Viewers love falling in love, but do they love it when Black folks do it?
It’s hard for her to communicate all the involved layers. To the off-camera producer, she says she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. And really, who would get what she’s struggling with anyway?
The flip side of Rachel’s pressure to be the total package—while still representing Black women well—is the pressure the Black men in the house are dealing with.
After undercutting Eric last week, Lee, the Southern singer-songwriter, interrupts Kenny’s 1-on-1 time. When Kenny confronts him on this, Lee feigns innocence and then later describes Kenny as “aggressive” to Rachel.
Lee exists on this show to instigate racial tension. Speaking like a plantation owner, he even says, “Kenny’s a big old meathead and I wanted to break him down.”
Lee is designed to make villains of Black men. He gotta go ASAPly. But, whether Rachel will realize this remains to be seen. (Although she tweeted something last night that suggests she now knows full well what he’s like.)
We’re approaching a turning point where whiteness is hitting up against the very real concerns of Blackness. Rachel’s burden is viscerally real. That she is the series’ first Black Bachelorette is, say, the only reason I’m watching. As a person, she deserves consideration outside of race but nonetheless, race is also in the plot. The subtext of the series has always been the assumed level of whiteness. Sure, there have been a few people of colour sprinkled in but they have always been just options, not priorities. There are those who see the status of being the “first Black” as an accolade, those who see it as a crusade and those who see it as a testimony to society’s failures. In all cases, it’s a gift and a curse.
It has never been super clear to me what Rachel’s thoughts on race are. A Group Date challenge might reveal whether a potential partner can spell “facade,” but set these dates at the “Blacksonian” or at a rally for civil rights, and we’d find out if the Lees of the world would still be around. That said, Rachel isn’t required to have the perfect racial politics to still bear the weight of Blackness, especially as a Black woman. Her much-admired “perfection” speaks for itself.
After all, she’s finding love, not a movement.