Free Agents, Monday (today) marks the season premiere of “The Bachelorette.” I must admit, The Bachelor(ette) franchise is one of my guilty privileges so, if all goes according to plan, I will be following along with Rachel Lindsay’s journey to find romantic love. Hold on. I want to clarify the prior statement. I will definitely follow Rachel on her journey to find love. I will faithfully watch each episode without fail because Rachel is the first black lead the series has ever seen. Rachel’s blackness on a show that has traditionally been exclusively white piques my curiosity. The show’s leads have traditionally been stereotypically good-looking white women in their twenties (as The Bachelorette) and white men in their thirties (as The Bachelor). Rachel bucks the trend as a well-educated black woman in her early thirties. Her presence marks a change to the way the franchise functions. It is maturing, if age is any indication of maturity, but is it genuinely diversifying? Is it presenting new ways for us to consider the ways race impacts attraction? Is it giving us a new perspective into the lives of unmarried women in their thirties, and especially into the lives of unmarried black women in their thirties? I suppose only time will tell.
One thing, however, is for sure. A black lead on the decade and a half old program, and especially a black female lead, is an assertion that black folks are worthy of romantic love. Sure, we have seen some reality shows that center black folks looking for love (Flavor of Love anyone), but a black lead seeking a romantic connection has never been featured on a mainstream channel like ABC. Several months ago on this blog, I wrote extensively about the unmarried black woman. The black unmarried Christian woman is also a multi-part topic of conversation on my co-hosted podcast, Just 2 Pearls.
I have argued on this blog that unmarried black women are, and have historically been, shapers of American religious, social, and political life and that our contributions to American life must be honored and remembered. What I have not said here in the past is that being an unmarried woman is not always easy and that many women who remain unmarried after being widowed or divorced, or never marry at all, would love to be married. Shows like The Bachelor make that quite clear as women put hard-earned careers on hold to chase after one man who, historically, rarely marries any of them! Last year, Rachel, a high-powered Dallas attorney, put her life and career on hold to try to convince a “the bachelor,” white man from Wisconsin, to choose her from among a bevy of younger mostly white women. Now, we will watch once again as this seemingly confident, well-adjusted, intelligent, church-going black woman (she took Bachelor Nick to her predominantly African American church on her hometown date last season) in her early thirties does it all over again. I am excited to see a black woman as the lead, but there is something utterly disturbing about the whole thing. Why can’t a beautiful, seemingly successful, black woman in a town as large as Dallas not find love?
Well, Free Agents, it is still May, and I am still engaging with the Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye. The novel has something to say about the struggle of so many black women to find someone to love. In the novel, one of the primary tensions the black female characters endure is that romantic love eludes them. After she begins menstruating for the first time, Pecola asks her friends whether it was true that she could have a baby they affirmed her question, but when she asked how, they told her that someone had to love her. She did not know how to make that happen. How do you get somebody to love you? It is a tragic question, isn’t it? We can have full lives, jobs, friends, a sense of security, and still, suffer because we have no romantic intimacy in our lives and we desperately want it. It’s the fruitless pursuit of love that drives the Breedlove family to their breaking point. The search for it is eating them alive.
Protagonist Pecola’s mother, Pauline Breedlove, tried to find romantic love in her youth. After watching some movies where physically attractive women found love, she decided that changing her physical appearance would make all the difference, but one day, as she was watching one of her movies in the theater, she lost her front tooth, and she gave up on the possibility of romance in her life. Beautiful women attracted love, and she believed one could not be beautiful with a missing front tooth. She told herself that romantic love was no longer an option for her. That feeling of unlovable-ness made her unloving because it diminished her sense of self and caused her to see even her own flesh and blood in distorted ways. She gave the love that could have been lavished on her family to a white family who did not even call her by her given name. Pauline’s problem was that her image of beauty was based on what she saw normalized on movie screens. Movies, television, magazines, and social media filters pose a problem for us too. They create a false image of what romantic love is or has the potential to be. Our favorite romantic comedies feature quirky, petite women paired up with tall men who have achieved success according to the traditional standards. We rarely see deviations from the norm, and movies featuring two random black or brown characters who fall in love either are never made or do not become box office successes. It is a problem because when we don’t line up with what the screen says is normative or attractive, we start to feel inadequate. We begin to obscure the fullness of who we are behind locked doors.
Readers, all of us are in different places with this issue. Some of us are searching for love, others of us are partnered, and still others of us for a variety of reasons are satisfied without a romantic partner. However, all of us need to know that we are loved and loveable that we might show greater love to other people. And, so I leave you with two questions for discussion, how do you get someone to love you? And, in a world that can sometimes feel cold and hostile, how do you let others know that you love them? The most important thing we can do in this life is to love and to be loved. See you next week.