So, mine and Jordan's podcast will be up tomorrow covering the rest of the episode, but I wanted to stop and talk about Lee, the Nashvillian (and maybe Nash-villain?) singer/songwriter on this season of The Bachelorette.
I want to kick it off by saying that here at DHDG, it's a priority to welcome readers of all ilks by making the content not only accessible across political, gender, and racial lines, but also respectful across those same lines of difference. It's for that reason that I'm writing this post at all, but it's also for that reason that I'm going to try to be as gracious as possible. Because that's my ideology. Hope you can dig.
If you're a person who doesn't watch The Bachelorette, let me begin by congratulating you.
Lee, a 30 year old White guy from Nashville, has been flying below the radar for most of this season's four episodes. The last couple of episodes, though, he's stepped to center stage by being one of a few guys to pull a classic Bachelor Franchise move: throwing another contestant under the bus to woman whose heart everyone is trying to win.
The problem with this is that the people he's targeting are all African American guys, and the language that he's using is steeped in racial injustice. It seems like Lee has some racial biases going on that he may not even be aware of, and I think this is a great opportunity for the White readers of my blog (and for me) to take a step back and look into how Lee's making mistakes we ourselves might make. It's also possible that Lee knows exactly what he's doing, but as I don't know him personally, I'm not going to make that call. Let's look at the evidence.
ROLL THE TAPE.
Problem #1: Unconsciously (or consciously, I don't have any way of knowing) targeting people of color
Last week's witch hunt started when Eric, an African American guy who hasn't had a one-on-one, got a little insecure and a little drunk. I'm gonna Reader's Digest/paraphrase it for you because I frankly am too tired to screenshot any more of this show:
Eric (talking to Anthony, who'd just come back from a one-on-one): How was your date? I'm worried this whole experience isn't genuine and I feel vulnerable putting myself out there.
Iggy: (another contestant who sits down out of nowhere) Okay, so what's your point?
Eric: My point is that I want some clarity from Rachel because I feel really unsure. I don't want to give my all if she's not really in this whole-heartedly.
Iggy: Then why are you even having this conversation?
Eric: ...what? I was talking to these guys and then you came and sat down.
Iggy: You brought up this whole thing so I gave my opinion.
Eric: ...nobody asked for your opinion though, because I was talking to just Anthony by myself.
Iggy: Oh and people care about your opinion?
Eric: I AM DRUNK AND RAISING MY VOICE BECAUSE THIS IS STUPID AND YOU ARE MAKING IRRATIONAL POINTS!
Iggy: I'm sober but I'm acting like you've done something terrible to me and now I'm antagonizing you!
Meanwhile, Josiah (left) and Lee (right) hear this happening and come downstairs to check it out. They don't involve themselves beyond eavesdropping, but they do overhear it.
As a result of Eric raising his voice, Lee (along with another contestant) go on to tell Rachel's friends that Eric Wasn't Here For The Right Reasons. The friends report back to Rachel.
Rachel confronts Eric about it, they resolve it, and all is well. But Eric, confused, wants to talk to Lee about why Lee went after him. Eric calmly brooches the subject, and Lee tries to pacify him while not actually owning the fact that he's hurt/upset Eric. After a moment, Lee diverts the argument by jabbing at Eric (who is completely calm) about his disagreement with Iggy:
Major thing of note for me here: apart from race, Lee is slick. He doesn't want to ever own a mistake or appear as though he's in the wrong. This is made clear when Eric is still very involved in the conversation, trying to get to the bottom of it, and Lee responds with, "If you don't want to talk about anymore, that's okay." That sort of manipulative tactic in a debate is designed to frustrate the other person, who clearly does want to keep talking about it.
Takeaway: Though Eric did raise his voice in frustration, he was neither aggressive nor out of control. Lee's repetition that Eric was "screaming" at Iggy when Iggy was trying to admonish Eric for "not letting him making a point" and "interrupting," is re-writing history. Iggy inserted himself into a conversation he wasn't originally involved in, which is why Eric was so frustrated. Lee's actions look simply manipulative here - they don't look manipulative AND racist until the next day, when he does exactly the same thing to Kenny:
Kenny, upset that Lee took advantage of their friendship in order to get more time with Rachel, pulls Lee aside to talk. Things get heated as Lee, once again, maintains his cool and refuses to acknowledge that there's a problem:
Again, Lee is avoiding the subject and playing dumb to watch Kenny get more and more upset. If this interaction wasn't enough, he says as much in a conversation with someone later in the evening:
Look, Lee is a gross TV villain. He's probably being put up to this by producers and what we're seeing is obviously an edited version of all these conversations. We could chalk everything up to that, except that then, this conversation happens between Lee and Rachel.
Problem #2: Racially inappropriate language.
DINGDINGDINGDING we have a microaggression!
Almost 100% of this retelling is straight-up fiction. Kenny did not scream, "F-ck you," he did not give Lee the finger (he did say, "Read between the lines,"), and Lee was not silent in this interaction (in fact, he agitated Kenny from the beginning by gruffly saying, "GET TO IT," as Kenny was gathering his thoughts).
Here's where we really need to pay attention, though.
Lee paints himself as a victim here. "I just didn't talk at all." "I love the guy, but that confused me." "There was a side of him that was very aggressive toward me."
Everyone's major problem with Lee's sliminess should be that he's straight up lying, but if we dig down deeper, Lee is using a hundreds-of-years-old trope to cast himself as the victim of aggressive African American behavior. We can CLEARLY SEE that what he's saying did not take place, and yet, in his telling, Kenny "screamed at him" for no reason as he silently sat there and took it.
You may be thinking, "Mary Catherine, you're reading WAY too much into this -- this is a reality show. Chill."
But hear me out.
Lee is doing something called gaslighting, which essentially means that you give someone lots of reasons to form an opinion about you, then, when they actually form that opinion, you treat them like they're nuts. They get more and more upset, and you play it cooler and cooler, essentially watching your victim, who you totally manipulated, self-destruct from frustration over your duplicitous behavior. It's a terrible tactic always, but it's even worse when the person striking the match is White, and the person being manipulated is Black.
Imagine living in a world where the stereotype "Angry Black Man," and "Angry Black Woman," exists. Would you feel a little more pressure to keep your reactions between the lines? Would you feel that you couldn't freely respond to things without people around you thinking, "Here we go. Here comes the Mad Black Woman." I certainly would.
So for Lee, who we already know has some racial biases and is prone to generalization, to start using the word "aggressive" about a Black man's response to his shady behavior, is not just cringe-worthy, it's actually problematic. And as White folks, we can't sit idly by and let another example of Black people being portrayed unfairly slide.
Now look: it may well be true that if Lee had had this same interaction with a White person, he'd have described it in the same way to Rachel. My bets are that it would be pretty close, because I don't think Lee is a person of strong moral substance. But y'all - the difference is that White people in this country aren't stereotyped as being "aggressive." So if he did use that word, it wouldn't be a problem. But for him to describe a Black man that way? Problem.
Quick story (may have told this before, so stay with me):
When I was in Teach For America, I went to a conference where we listened to several high school senior girls, all of whom were Black, talk about their plans for the future. There was a Q&A at the end of the seminar, and I stood up.
"First, I just want to say that y'all are my heroes. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do or be when I was 18, so the fact that you guys have 5-year plans is so impressive. You are beautifully articulate in the way you describe what you want for yourselves, and it's a quality that most adults don't even have."
If you're a person of color reading that, you already see the problem.
Using the word "articulate" to describe a person of color (specifically a Black person) is a no-no. It assumes that we expect Black people not to be well-spoken, to be less capable of expressing themselves, to be "ghetto." I had no idea at the time, and so I was floored when several of my African American colleagues told me that I'd offended them. At first, I was really indignant, because that's not how I meant it at all.
But sometimes, it's about the impact of our words rather than the intention behind them. I didn't intend to be offensive, but I had been. And now I know better. It costs me nothing not to use that word when describing my former students, even if I mean it sincerely that they ARE articulate and well-spoken. There's no reason to even go there, because I am inadvertently offending my friends and contributing to a stereotype that I don't want to feed.
The impact of Lee's words is greater than whether or not he meant for it to be racially offensive. And though I don't know him and can't judge him, it doesn't appear to me that the intention was that great, either.
Lots of people are up in arms about ABC's decision to cast Lee, whose Twitter feed is a minefield of racist and xenophobic material. And lots of people are upset that the show is using this storyline, steeped in racial undertones, as a plot line for this season.
My own personal hope is that the contestants, especially White contestants (thank you DEAN!!), will start sniffing out Lee's racist behavior on the show, and that we as a country get to watch while that happens. I think this could be a really important moment, and I hope that the White viewers can learn something about how the subtleties of our actions and words sometimes have implications we're unaware of.
And if we needed another reason for Lee to go home, anybody who gives Queen Rachel this busted ass wood carving has got. To. GO.