Joanna Schroeder explains how your next purchase of kitchen towels may be the start of your own personal socio-political revolution.
You might think The Bachelor and JC Penney have nothing in common… But they actually do. They are perfect examples of the ways in which each of us, as consumers in a capitalist economy, can take control of the world around us.
See, here’s the thing about America: We’ve got a lot of opinions about the way things should be—not just in politics, but also in the media and sports. And one thing I think we can all agree on about America as a whole is that money talks. We vote with our dollars. If you don’t like something, you can organize a large-scale boycott, and it’s pretty effective if people stick to it.
When the story of the two Black men suing The Bachelor television show and its creators surfaced, I immediately agreed that there is a problem with the casting of that show. Though frankly I just don’t see how they can prove that they would’ve been chosen had they been white. That’s such a hard thing to establish.
Regardless of the outcome, the lawsuit brought attention, and caused us to have a national conversation about why Mike Fleiss and his Executive Producers have never cast a Person of Color as a lead in the show. Being as I live in Los Angeles, I know a lot of people who work in reality TV, as well as scripted television and movies, and so I started picking their brains about the homogenous, Wonder Bread appearance of The Bachelor.
One friend said, “When Black people star in reality TV, people simply don’t watch. And all of us know it’s true, and we all know it’s fucked. But we can’t run a show that will fail, ratings-wise.”
Another friend talked about how the people behind the scenes in big reality shows where players or viewers vote have become so cynical about the ways in which racism is deeply pervasive, that they take bets as to how quickly the People of Color will be voted off. They cheer for many of the the POC who are contestants, they want to see change, but they know that in its heart, this country is racist.
So really, whose fault is it that The Bachelor is about as diverse as a bowl of white rice? Mike Fleiss and his EPs? Or us?
I say both.
The producers of the show have to take a risk. They need to cast a beautiful, charismatic young Person of Color as Bachelor or Bachelorette, and they need to bring on contestants who are racially diverse. Then they need to stand by their decision and suck it up if the ratings go down.
But it’s up to the American people, everyone who tsk-tsk’d at Mike Fleiss and his team when Michael Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson first brought their lawsuit, to create a reverse-boycott and encourage their friends to watch The Bachelor/ette once the changes have been made, and to Tweet/Facebook/whatever like crazy to get more people to vote with their dollars and watch the show once the changes have been made. They also need to watch and promote shows that are more representative of our population and who portray good role models.
But ultimately, you may ask yourself, why does it matter? I mean, if Americans are racists, what difference is it going to make if there were a Black Bachelorette?
Here’s why: Because there are a frighteningly large number of people who don’t have friends outside their own racial group. The Black people they know best are most likely Will Smith and Oprah. And I’d bet those two probably opened their minds a little bit about what it means to be a non-white person, even if only through a screen.
So when people see a Black mayor who dashes into a burning home to save his neighbors, or a Black Secretary of State, or a Black man giving a lecture on Astrophysics, or even a Black Bachelor or Bachelorette, their ideas of what’s “okay” slowly, and possibly unconsciously, start to change. We all know there are People of Color doing a whole ton of diverse and interesting things, and have been for a very long time. But a lot of America simply does not know that. And sure, maybe it’s not anyone’s job but the bigots themselves to do any work toward change… but it seems to me that making the world better is actually all of our job.
Fleiss and his companies make enough money to take the risk. And someone else will have to take the same risk after The Bachelor has done it. And then it’s up to us, as viewers to organize that reverse boycott, wherein we decide to vote with our dollars for what we believe in. If there were change, I would propose that we watch The Bachelor/ette, and we try to get others to do so, just to prove that it’s important to us.
And if they won’t do it? Stop watching the show. If you’ve lamented at how racist The Bachelor/ette series have been, then I suggest you cut off your endorsement of the show—your vote—by refusing to watch it.
So, how does JC Penney fit into this?
Well, as I reported this morning here on The Good Feed Blog, JC Penney not only hired noted lesbian and LGBT advocate as one of the company’s spokespeople, but they are featuring a real life two-dad family in their June catalogue, right alongside all the more traditional families.
So, even if you’re cynical and think they’re doing it simply for the PR, they’re still doing what’s right. And for those people who don’t interact often with diverse families, that little image of the gorgeous family led by two dads will change them. Maybe imperceptibly at first, but over time the image will become familiar to them, and perhaps someday when they run into a real-life, living and breathing LGBT family, they’ll have a point of reference—even if it’s just an ad they saw in JC Penney’s June book. Even if they have no idea why it feels familiar, to many people it will matter.
So friends, go to JC Penney and shop next time you need something. You can find an excuse to stumble in. And while you’re paying, mention the great photo from the June catalogue that inspired you to come in and buy those kitchen towels or that pair of trouser socks.
After all, those kitchen towels are your vote, my friends.
And so is your viewership of television that’s diverse and representative of your values. Stop giving your dollars to homogenous, party-line toeing stupid reality television! At least, that is, until they get their acts together and stop propagating racist attitudes.