Misee Harris: Why a Black Bachelorette May Matter More Than You Think

"I'm totally in love with this island and $40,000 ring — I mean, you."

“I’m totally in love with this island and the $40,000 ring — I mean, you.”

The Bachelor. For 25 seasons, millions of viewers have watched a familiar formula of women crying, helicopter rides as first dates, and so many red roses given and ‘I love yous’ exchanged that have, with the exception of three cases, ended in break-ups. The show isn’t exactly a rousing advertisement for the institution of marriage, but rather a venue for many contestants to pursue pseudo-permanent reality television careers and fratty cruise events where they can hook up with other like-minded, shallow people.

Can you tell I’m not a diehard fan? (And yes, I know I enjoy my Housewives. But we all have our contradictions, and I’m living with mine every day, gfs).

577198_469617023092499_1115549742_n

Pediatric Dentist Misee Harris campaigns to be the next Bachelorette.

So it may surprise you that I’m actually a big advocate of Misee Harris’ social media campaign to become the first black bachelorette. The pediatric dentist from Tennessee is an absolute knockout who also has a huge heart, given her commitment to mentoring young women and volunteer efforts with children who have autism. She has a precious video of her with her dog, is sweet with her Facebook fans and quotes 2 Chainz. Nuff’ said.

I'm annoying and shady and nobody liked me...thank God I'm white! It's like, totally awesome.

I’m annoying and shady and nobody liked me … was I picked because I’m white? That’s like, totally awesome.

So why the social media campaign? Although Harris applied and was chosen to be a contestant on a previous season of The Bachelor, she ultimately withdrew because she was concerned about ‘being another token.’ Given that all 25 seasons of the franchise have featured white Bachelors and Bachelorettes, and that there have been very few contestants of color, this is totes a valid concern. Here is what bothers me. Misee Harris is pretty much perfect. I mean seriously, how many people do you know who possess all of her exceptional qualities? When you consider some of the other not-so-perfect contestants on the show (Vienna Girardi anyone? Or Brad Womack? OK those were the only seasons I watched, promise ;)), it seems a bit ridiculous for creator Mike Fleiss to make the claim that diverse contestants don’t come forward, and that when they do, it feels a ‘bit forced,’ like ‘tokenism.’

An earth angel, not a token! (photo courtesy of Jaimie Tull of Tull Studios).

First of all, isn’t there an argument to be made that viewers have been ‘forced’ to endure ten years of nearly all-white casts that for many of us, do not reflect the diversity of people we engage with in our daily lives? Also, tokenism in this context would imply that a non-qualified contestant was picked simply because they added diversity. But to dismiss a beautiful, successful, charitable woman because of the color of her skin? How does that constitute anything but systematic racial exclusion? Seriously dude, check out the Wikipedia definition of these terms before you preach such foolishness, fo’ real.

resized_aliblue

I was SO heart-broken a week ago, but now I’m the new Bachelorette—score!

Furthermore, why is it that the Bachelorette must be a former contestant? Isn’t the formula getting a tad stale? I mean really, every season, it’s the same deal—white woman gets ‘heart broken’ on The Bachelor, sits in Chris Harrison’s hot seat during the reunion show for ten minutes and cries about how she is ‘looking for love’ and has finally moved on from the Bachelor who she fell in love with over those two dates she had with him, only to come back a week later smiling and radiant as she is announced the new Bachelorette. We. get. it.

Now I know there are many peeps out there who will argue that The Bachelor isn’t a show that contestants of color should strive to be on in the first place, and that it might actually demean an accomplished woman like Harris. I have a few responses to this, and I highly recommend that you act out a Snap! as I make each point, so get ready. First of all, regardless of whether or not you think Harris should be on the show doesn’t take away from the fact that Harris wants to be on the show. At the end of the day, she should be granted an equal opportunity, period. Yes I know, she could have been a contestant on The Bachelor and won a chance to become the next Bachelorette, but considering that very few contestants of color have gotten far on previous seasons of the show, the odds of that happening were very much against her. Secondly, The Bachelor is one of television’s most popular franchises that is watched by millions of people religiously and has, like it or not, cultural influence. To give a show an all-inclusive title like ‘The Bachelor’ implies that there are going to be all kinds of contestants on the show, not a whitewashed view of relationships and marriage that as Jezebel put it, “couldn’t be further from reality.” I mean seriously, if Mike Fleiss is going to be so blunt about his reasons for excluding people of color, then he should have named it ‘The White Bachelor.’ Or, ‘The Fratty Bachelor.’ Or even better, ‘The White, Fratty, Straight, Christian Bachelor.’ You know? Keep. It. Real.

A dating show, or white Greek rush event?

A dating show, or white Greek rush event?

Quick side note. Similar criticisms were leveled at Lena Dunham of the show Girls, for featuring an all-white cast in the middle of Brooklyn. And guess what? Dunham admitted that had been an oversight and promptly addressed the lack of diversity in the second season. I love me some self-reflection. LOVE.

Lena figured it out, so why can't Mike?

Lena figured it out, so why can’t Mike?

Finally, it is precisely this cultural permeability, this accessibility, that can actually make a show like The Bachelor a potentially powerful tool for creating conversations on topics around relationships and some other pretty serious issues. Doubtful? OK, let’s take the example of Sean Lowe’s season, which did feature a fairly diverse group of contestants, including an Iraqi woman named Selma Alameri. Former Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky took it upon herself to write a blog entry titled “Selma’s boobs, Roller Derby, and Tierra Drama” in which she makes fun of Selma’s cleavage and criticizes her intent to stay true to her mother’s wishes and not kiss Sean on national television.

(Brief aside/rant: There’s nothing I love more than when someone like Ali, who has reaped the benefits from The Bachelor for all the reasons mentioned above, takes an opportunity to shame a woman of color’s body on a public forum as well as provide ‘cutting-edge’ cultural criticism. No really, it’s like, my favorite thing ever. She should totes come back for another season of The Bachelorette, cause last I checked, season one didn’t work out too great. Oh no. I. didn’t. Oh yes I did! Snap!).

Aside over. When reading the comments in the article below, there was definitely quite a bit of backlash against Ali for, as one person put it, “discussing other cultures in a blog when you don’t know anything about that culture.” Then one person responded to that comment by asking,

Maybe you can help explain why this point of view is wrong. To those who don’t know much about/understand these cultures, Selma is a bit confusing. Where do we draw the line of modesty on national television? I don’t know much about the Muslim faith myself, but I was under the impression that women were supposed to dress more modestly, abstain from drinking alcohol, and not be spooning and caressing on national television. What makes kissing so taboo in relativity to those other things?

Then over at Reality Steve, the blogger who posts spoilers every season, someone responded to his comments calling Selma a ‘tease’ for dressing sexy but not ‘putting out’ by noting,

I take MAJOR issues with you going on and on about how Selma dresses sexy and thus she was a ‘cock tease’ for not putting out with Sean. Wow Steve, so if a woman dresses sexy, she has to put out? That’s how rape culture is perpetuated, FYI.

Who knew a date between Iraqi-born Selma Alameri and Bachelor Sean Lowe would provoke cultural conversations?

Who knew a date between Iraqi-born Selma Alameri and Bachelor Sean Lowe would provoke cultural conversations?

This is why I think pop culture shows can be so awesome, because they can facilitate important conversations on issues like culture and gender that need to be had, just by the nature of their accessibility. While the diversity of blogs in the blogosphere is exciting, there is a potential that certain communities which cater to specific topics will only pull in the interested and invested, ultimately preaching to the choir. I love the idea that having a diverse group of contestants on a show that so many people watch might provoke questions and spark conversations on cultures that are different from theirs in a way that they might not normally engage with. I mean seriously, I love that someone might actually learn something, or at the very least, be inspired to learn, about the Islamic faith after watching an episode where two people go on a date, climb a rock, and toast marshmallows over a campfire. Furthermore, as this blogger put it,

Such a show would inherently promote the idea that black women are desirable. It disrupts the cultural narratives in media—that some see as propaganda—promoting the expectation that African-American women should be perpetually single. It de-emphasizes the standard of a white, fair-haired woman as the epitome of female beauty and worthiness, a standard which fuels billions of dollars in sales of hair dye, hair extensions, and skin-bleaching creams globally. This beauty ideal also contributes to the absence of black women from the ranks of the highest paid models and actresses, where our form of beauty tends to be an occasional exotic trend rather than embraced as an everyday normality.

Scandal proves we're reading for a black leading lady.

Scandal proves we’re reading for a romantically attractive black leading lady.

As she further points out, it is not like Americans aren’t interested in high-profile relationships involving black women, including those of Beyonce and Jay Z, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Will Smith, and of course, Michelle and Barack Obama. Seriously, if Americans are ready for a relationship between two black people in the White House, then why can’t they watch a black woman date on a show that isn’t just comical (read: Flavor of Love)? And if Mike Fleiss is so concerned about ratings, perhaps he should look to the show Scandal, which features an affair between a powerful black broker played by Kerry Washington and a white president that is bringing in eight million viewers an episode.

Pop culture visibility matters, and Misee Harris deserves to be part of it. If she were chosen I would totes watch, and it’s not just because she’s black. It is because she is a professional, talented woman who would add interest due to the nature of her accomplishments. That being said, picking a diverse roster of candidates for her would also add a lot of interest, and it would probably get people talking. And that’s a good thing, right girlfriends?

Want to show Misee some love and support? Check out her Facebook page and her twitter account, and tweet Mike Fleiss @fleissmeister letting him know you want @miseeharris as the next #bachelorette!

And check out this Huff Po live interview with Misee!

An abridged version of this article is now on The Huffington Post.

About these ads

18 Comments

Filed under Media & Culture

18 responses to “Misee Harris: Why a Black Bachelorette May Matter More Than You Think

  1. Karen Dawisha

    Awesome Nadia!

    *From:* Listen Girlfriends! [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] *Sent:* Tuesday, March 05, 2013 6:31 PM *To:* dawishkl@muohio.edu *Subject:* [New post] Misee Harris: Why a Black Bachelorette May Matter More Than You Think

    listengirlfriends posted: ” “I’m totally in love with this island and the $40,000 ring I mean, you.” The Bachelor. For 25 seasons, millions of viewers have watched a familiar formula of women crying, helico”

  2. Well said…more diversity would be awesome but I wonder if the majority of bachelor watchers (white girls) would be as invested in the relationship of a black bachelor or bachelorette. We shall see how it will an transpire but I love Selma she was awesome!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! (sorry this ended up in the spam folder for some reason, ugh). I think that is what Mike Fleiss is concerned about but it just doesn’t add up when you consider how invested Americans are in several high-profile relationships involving black women. They should at least try it…I mean, 25 seasons of racial exclusion! And yes I loved Selma…she was so feisty and funny and I LOVED that she didn’t jump into freezing water for a (play)boy!! ;)

  3. Mikaeli

    Nadia, you really did a very good article and I am going to send it to as many people as possible. Great, intelligent points you made. Well done! Thanks for keepingit real!~M

  4. I enjoyed this… is it wise to encourage women and especially intelligent and hardworking ones (as you seem to refer to Harris) to be part of such a show?
    Second, even if the conversation is had does it change peoples deep seated perceptions?

    • HI habiba!
      I agree that this show may not seem like the most ‘progressive’ for women like Misee to be a part of, but at the same time, it is a show that many watch. Visibility is SO important, and there’s nothing more visible than ABC primetime. Whether it would change people’s deep-seated perceptions is a debate that we’ve had in media criticism for years. Take for example, “The Cosby Show’ and “All in the Family”, two shows that were originally heralded for challenging audience’s views on race. Studies were done after the shows aired that revealed that in many ways, audiences had NOT been challenged to think differently about race. However, I also believe that the increased visibility of the GLBTQ community has resulted in a shift of public perception and acceptability. Who knows how profound an effect having a black bachelorette would serve, but at the very least it would send a message that people of color have the right to lead a show and would legitimate a black woman as a romantic leading lady!

  5. Jasmine Brown

    Yes, Yes, yes!!!!

    Like Nadia said, Misee Harris is a knockout! Not only is she super gorgeous but she is professional, talented, and let’s not forget a women of color. That is more than enough reason to put her on the show. Kudos to you woman. I have never personally watched the Bachelor nor the Bachelorette but from what I have heard and seen from pictures, there needs to be a little color added to the roster. Yet that is my opinion for every show that is color biased and shows no authentic diversity when it comes to the selection process and fully obtaining a spot through pop culture visibility.
    But I have to ask, is Misee Harris truly concerned about finding love or just being a THE FIRST black woman on the show? Don’t get me wrong I am not a fan of systematic racial exclusion but I’m also not a fan of our community being broadcasted as only an avenue to pursue pesudo- permanent reality careers, being a hook up, or like Nadia said a token. These are all the things Misee admitted she wanted to shy away from, but what is she looking to get from the show. Obviously it is a big deal for her but with her accomplishments is it really needed?

    Regardless, Misee being admitted would definitely put a stamp on the show and ultimately increase the ratings for the show. Initially this was the argument of the owner by not adding diversity nonetheless this show is very popular and adding diverse contestants would take those ratings to a sky high. Think about shows like The Game, Scandal, Basketball wives and etc., the visibility of reality is topped ranked on Culture and Media ratings and adding a woman is as accomplished as Misee Harris would add a challenge to the other women on the show. But that is a good thing. What viewer doesn’t want to see a good challenge and hustle and bustle to be on the top? Everyone wants to see it and that may be the doubt of the owner. The problem might be that she actually may win!! Oh no!!!

    This isn’t an act of tokenism but a fair chance to take this show to greater heights and as an owner why wouldn’t you want to do that. I get it, she wasn’t present on the bachelor first but her campaign shows she just as qualified as any other contestant to make a mark on the show. Like Nadia said, I would be excited to see her on the show, not just because she’s black. It is because she is a professional, talented woman who would add interest due to the nature of her accomplishments.

    • Thanks for the reply! I love your passion :) I think what compelled me to write this piece was Mike Fleiss’s foolish comments about tokenism (a tried and true excuse used in many different settings to defend racial exclusion) and this notion that the Bachelorette HAD to be a former contestant…with so few minorities on the show, how will we ever have a person of color lead the show, lol? I can’t believe Mike didn’t think these issues before the show started. Maybe he just assumed that America is far less diverse than it actually is, and thought there would be no issue with excluding people of color? I just can’t dismiss a show that has one of the highest ratings in primetime as not being culturally relevant. Hopefully things will change soon! Thank you for your comment, fyi if you love to discuss this kind of stuff, you should check out the LG facebook page-huge debate on Tyler Perry happening right now. :)

      • I hope she hands out roses for season 10 or that any minority does (if not held back by families and culture). It’s boring to see all White people doing these things. And producer Fleiss must be colorblind or something. Sure America is mostly White but there are minority and mixed people too. I think he was trying to target people in Deep Southern states which are mostly White as well as other smaller communities which is why he had all these white people on The Bachelor/Bachelorette. It’s like saying White people are more attractive-looking than minorities and more normal-looking than mixed people even when they tend to age faster. Now that Juan Pablo Galavis from The Bachelorette season 9 is the first minority Bachelor for season 18, it’s a relief from all the accusations of The Bachelor/Bachelorette not representing real America and discouraging interracial dating.

      • Hey, thanks for your comment! Actually, the irony is that America is NOT mostly white…a few years ago was the first time that non-white children surpassed European-Americans, which makes this even more egregious. While I think it’s a good first step to have Juan Pablo as a Bachelor, keep in mind that even though he’s ethnically Latino, he’s STILL a blond-haired, white man with European ancestry. It seemed like Fleiss chose a “safe exotic” for this next season.

  6. And if he were very exotic, there’s trouble, especially with White female contestants who might have jealous White boyfriends who might threaten him over them out of being racist which could make big entertainment headlines even though he can sue their boyfriends for making racist threats to him, knowing guys take it harder when girls of their race talk to or date guys out of their race, from what I observe, thinking they could end having kids that don’t look like one race or something. I don’t know. That’s what I think.

    • Thank you for your comment and for linking my post to your blog! :) I think it’s hard to predict what would happen if they picked a non-white contestant. I think at the end of the day the show has a responsibility to add some diversity to the pool since there’s been 25 seasons of only white people, and that just doesn’t reflect the American population or the reality of most of our lives, where we have friends and date people that don’t come from the same background as we do.

      Thanks again for your comment! :)

      • And I’m sure there is some racism against the last white Bachelor Sean Lowe picking Asian (and white) contestant Catherine Giudici just like racism against Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg marrying doctor Priscilla Chan, despite that they might be quite rich. I believe that if Juan picks a non-white contestant there could be racist backlash too since he is mixed which could absorb into headlines. But to add diversity to the large pool of eligible bachelors (in which I think there will be more than 25 making it a very long season) on The Bachelorette would not only be interesting but could erupt into fights among guys, especially due to race.

  7. Pingback: The Year’s Fiercest Cultural Figures | Listen Girlfriends!

  8. Pingback: Misee Harris: Why a Black Bachelorette May Matter More Than You Think | Nadia Dawisha

  9. Pingback: 전세계의 최신 영어뉴스 듣기 - 보이스뉴스 잉글리쉬

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s