Rachel Lindsay on feeling ‘exploited’ by ‘The Bachelor’ franchise

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Rachel Lindsay. (Photo: Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Rachel Lindsay writes about her “toxic” relationship with The Bachelor franchise producers and fans in a new op-ed for New York magazine. However, she's not happy with how the outlet promoted the piece, calling the cover "clickbait."

In the wake of host Chris Harrison's ouster from the show, the first Black Bachelorette is featured in the print edition of the magazine (cover headline: "Oops, I blew up The Bachelor") and on the brand's entertainment site Vulture (headline: "Rachel Lindsay has no roses left to burn"). The lengthy piece is about how she hoped to "change The Bachelor franchise from within, "bringing in much-needed diversity, but she leaves — after not renewing her contract — feeling "exploited" by producers for merely being a "token." She also spoke about the "Bachelor Klan," what she calls part of the show's "hateful, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic" fandom, as well as Harrison's exit.

The attorney always "had a complicated relationship" with the fans, but they "really started to turn against me after" her interview with Harrison in which he defended Rachael Kirkconnell after photos surfaced of her at an antebellum plantation theme party. That interview set into motion his departure.

"The franchise has spent 19 years cultivating a toxic audience," Lindsay said. "They have constantly given it a product it wants: a Midwestern/Southern white, blond, light-eyed Christian. Not all viewers are like that. My Higher Learning [podcast] co-host and I have divided it — there is a Bachelor Nation, and there is a Bachelor Klan. Bachelor Klan is hateful, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic. They are afraid of change. They are afraid to be uncomfortable. They are afraid when they get called out."

She said some show fans even "started trying to dig up dirt on me. I received death threats and personal attacks. I had to hire people to protect me. I couldn’t even pretend to want to be involved anymore. I didn’t want to give people a reason to talk about me because everything I was saying was becoming a headline. And so I decided to remove myself from it all."

And now, "I’m no longer making myself available to The Bachelor universe," she said, nor will she be "the face of what is diverse." Her goal "was always to be that person until I could step away because the change had happened, and I could sit back and enjoy it. That hasn’t come to pass, exactly, but I’ll cautiously sit back and watch the upcoming season with Michelle Young — the next Black Bachelorette — to uplift and support her. I used to always say, 'If you want me to shut up, bring in another Black lead.' Now, I wouldn’t come back and talk about something if they paid me. Well, maybe if they paid me eight figures..." — a reference to Harrison's big payout.

Lindsay detailed her decision to appear on Nick Viall's season of The Bachelor in 2017. She wasn't a fan of the show and almost called off her participation at the 11th hour. She obviously went ahead with it and wrote about how being confined to a house for 10 weeks — cut off from the world with lots of alcohol and an attractive leading man — she "fell for the fairy tale." But being Black in a franchise with no real representation, "I felt my Blackness was on display" and she cited instances where she was painted "an angry Black female."

However, she felt the producers protected her at times — enough to sell her on her being the first Black Bachelorette later that year. She did it "to depict a Black woman at the center of a love story," saying, "How many people haven’t seen a positive representation of a Black woman, someone who has the chance to be adored by men of all races, backgrounds, professions?"

She said show creator Mike Fleiss and his team "deferred to me" when she "expressed my concerns about being the first Black lead," as far as there being "no Black people behind the camera and how I wanted that to change." She told them, "I wanted them to come to me if they didn’t understand something. I wanted a diverse season. I wanted it to be Black in every way," and they agreed.

However, she felt the way it played out on screen was very stereotypical. There was a white contestant whose racist tweets resurfaced. Another contestant was put into the "angry Black man" role. Even with her now husband, Bryan Abasolo, she noted how every time he appeared on screen, the show "played Latino music." And she claimed she once was told she couldn't send home a Black contestant because the show needed to keep a diverse pool of suitors.

"The fact that we had to ration the Black men was extremely upsetting," she said and recalled telling them, 'You have no idea what it feels like to be the first person representing Black people to your lily-white audience.'”

She also said she "felt exploited" on a hometown visit with Peter Kraus, a white contestant. Producers had her meet his friends on camera — conveniently two interracial couples.

"I walked in and saw two Black men and two white women sitting at a table," she recalled. "I turned to my producer and gave her a look. I wish they had caught my face on camera — the way I turned and stared at her, like, really, bitch? They separated us — Peter got to talk to his homeboys, and I was with the women, who talked about having 'mixed babies' and what it was like to be an interracial couple. I couldn’t believe it. I’m Black. I have interracial couples in my family. I’m old enough to understand what I’m entering into and the difficulties that come with it. I felt exploited."

She felt her finale was edited to make it seem like she "settled for Bryan because Peter couldn’t give me what I wanted," noting it made her feel "robbed of my love story." And on the After the Rose special, when she rehashed what went wrong with Peter, she felt she was made to be "this angry Black woman" who mistreated him.

While "The Bachelor franchise changed my life," she called it "a love-hate relationship." She said she was under contract her first year and felt "pressure to speak about it positively." Later, she started calling out things because she thought the show was backtracking when it came to diversity.

"In May 2020, things grew untenable," she said. "A video of former Bachelorette Hannah Brown saying the N-word surfaced. I talked to her privately. I publicly held her accountable. It became a news story around the time of George Floyd’s murder. I started to get depressed watching what was happening to my community. I couldn’t take three steps without crying. Protesting was the only thing that gave me relief. That June, I said I would begin to 'disassociate' from the franchise if it didn’t make meaningful changes."

That is when Matt James was announced as the first Black Bachelor. She already was critical of how his season was playing out when the photos of Kirkconnell surfaced — and she questioned Harrison about them on Extra as the franchise seemed to be ignoring the racist photo scandal.

"I thought, 'This is a charade at this point.' If the person who has been representative of your show for nearly two decades thinks this way, what does it say about the rest of it?" she said of Harrison. "How does that trickle down into how the series is made? The fish rots at the head, and it was stank after that display."

She said she's since become known as "the one responsible for Harrison’s eventually leaving the franchise," and it's left her "exhausted from defending myself against a toxic fandom."

She wrote: "I’ve often wondered if it felt like a 180 to the franchise when I became its biggest critic. As my sorority sister would put it, 'You played the part, and when you were done, you called them racist with your whole chest.' After all, they had cast me because, on paper, I made sense. I couldn’t be like the Bachelorettes who had come before — somebody who was still living at home with her parents, who had 'pageant queen' on her résumé. I was a lawyer. My father was a federal judge. I had a squeaky-clean record. I had to be a good Black girl, an exceptional Black girl. I had to be someone the viewer could accept. And I was a token until I made sure I wasn’t. The thing is, the day I went on the show, I didn’t wake up and say, You know what? I’m going to start standing up for myself. I was taught at a very young age to speak up about injustices. It was no different with Bachelor Nation. And I don’t think they ever saw it coming."

Lindsay has since said that while she is happy with the contents of her interview, she's not with the way New York has promoted it on its cover.

"While it was a very collaborative experience, they decided to misrepresent me with the headline that was chosen for the cover," she wrote.

"Those are not my words nor are they a reflection of how I feel. In fact, it is in stark contrast to the context of the piece," Lindsay continued. "For me, it is very disappointing and disrespectful that the very notion I was trying to refute was used against me by the publication for a clickbait headline."

She concluded by saying that "truth" and "thoughts" are "told on the inside of the magazine" and that she's still "proud" of the article.

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