What Will's Revelation On The Bachelorette Says About Race & Dating

Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC.
So far, The Bachelorette has been riding the fence on race. They started off on a high, basking in the praise they received for casting the first Black bachelorette and offering an extremely diverse pool of suitors to try to win her heart. However, since the show has progressed, they’ve done their best to downplay the way that race actually affects how people interact with each other on the show. God forbid interracial dating be at all complicated.
At every opportunity during interviews and on the show, Rachel makes it explicitly clear that she's open to dating people of all races. Doreen St. Félix at The New Yorker eloquently observed how Lee’s racism was being rebranded as normal drama based in morality, not race. Last night, Will’s preference for white women was written off as a fun fact about him, despite Rachel’s obvious apprehension and the way Will’s own actions imply that it affects the way he interacts with her.
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In case you missed last night’s episode, Will and Rachel have a one-on-one date that is full of awkward pauses and not nearly enough kissing. By now, we know that a physical connection is just as important to Rachel as an emotional one (hi, Bryan). Something is missing. She asks Will what kind of women he’s attracted to, and he responds, “I’ve typically only dated white girls.” So in response to question about his type, his answer is basically: white. Rachel follows up with an inquiry about the kind of boyfriend Will is. He insists that he is passionate and really into physical intimacy, which is obviously in contrast with what he shows Rachel on their date. So she sends him home.
However, I don’t think these two conversations — about Will’s dating history and the way he expresses himself towards the women he dates — are isolated. Rachel was visibly uncomfortable with his answer and, despite what the race-neutral politics of The Bachelorette would have us believe, that discomfort is warranted. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed it.
While Will tried to use his upbringing as an excuse for his history of dating white women, it is actually a preference. (Rachel highlighted this when she reminded him that they had very similar upbringings, yet she's mostly dated Black men.) And a Black man with a preference for white women does not happen in a vacuum. This thread of tweets from @BooksAndBoujee perfectly explains why Will could be so disappointing to Black women.
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I’ve written about the personal identity and political issues that might lead a person of colour to want to date within their own race. As such, we also have to consider what issues make someone want to date outside of their race, too. That he is willing to consider being with Rachel does not absolve Will of accountability for this, especially not when he couldn’t even muster up a little tongue in his attempt to court her.
To me, it feels like the Bachelorette producers would prefer to portray interracial dating as easy-breezy. But in the real world, it is way more complicated than that.
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