The Bachelorette is only on its fourth episode this season with Rachel Lindsay, but both the competition and the tension have gotten exceptionally thick.
On last night's episode, Lindsay revealed the pressure she feels, not only having to wade through this sea of guys, but also with the racial dynamic of her position on the show.
She described her experience during a teary moment, saying,
The pressures that are going to come with all of this, being a black woman and what that is and how…I don't even want to talk about it. I get pressured from so many different ways being in this position. I did not want to get into all of this tonight. I already know what people are going to say about me and judge me for the decisions that I'm making. I”m going to be the one who has to deal with that and nobody else and that's a lot. You have no idea what it's like to be in this position.
Rachel was actually reacting to an argument she overheard between contestants Lee and Kenny, which seemingly left her feeling emotional about being around the negativity, and also seemed to pile on top of the aforementioned pressures.
The Struggle That Rachel Is Experiencing Is Not Uncommon For Black People
A great deal of pride can come along with being the "first" black person to do something. The routine exclusion and oppression that black people experience motivates our tendency to root for our "firsts."
Think former President Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States.
On the evening of his victory in November 2008, he addressed how winning the election sends a message to the country about change in a speech in Chicago's Grant Park.
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer… It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.
That "first" position is honorable, but can also come along with heavy expectations about how to carry yourself, evidenced by the criticism he has received about how he has addressed black issues in the White House.
The expectations can come from within the black community and outside of it, which is what Rachel means when she says she gets pressured in "so many ways."
One Example Is The Ongoing Discussion About What The Race Will Be Of The Guy She Chooses
Overall, people are either holding out hope that Rachel picks a black guy, suggesting she picks a white guy because they are better than the black options, or preparing themselves for the slight disappointment of watching her walk away with a white fiancé.
There are damaging and untrue stereotypes about black men only wanting white women or black women needing to date white men to "level up." Internalized racism has led some black people, of either gender, to bash the opposite sex with their preferences for white spouses.
The few who participate in interracial relationships are often looked at as the majority, giving the impression that black people cannot have loving relationships with each other and need white people to make it happen.
One can even look back as far as slavery to understand how the black family unit has historically been violated and separated.
During that time, marriage recognized by the state was banned for slaves altogether, which is why some of them participated in the African "jumping the broom" tradition to establish their relationships somehow.
Black families were also threatened with being sold away from each other at their master's will and had their spouses raped and/or impregnated.
To refute the stereotypes and a history that has attempted to render real black love impossible, black people have taken it upon themselves to share and celebrate their same-race relationships.
The point here isn't to combat interracial relationships — which are also beautiful when genuine, like any other relationship — but to say, "Hey, we're here! This is possible and healthy and good!"
This is why hoards of people relish the love stories of famous black couples like Will and Jada Smith and root for the ones on TV, like Dre and Rainbow from Blackish.
It's also why people would be overflowing with joy if Rachel were to pick a black guy and ride off into the sunset in eternal bliss and blackness. The first black Bachelorette and a positive image of a black couple would make for a sweet two-for-one deal.
Still, That Puts Rachel Lindsay In An Overwhelming Spot
Every week Lindsay tries to make her next move her best move, dropping the guys she doesn't want and opening up herself to the remaining romance possibilities. Basically, she's living a woman's five-year dating life in the span of only a few weeks.
Whenever I consider this reality toppled with the community expectations, I forget all about Josiah's abs and don't envy her in the slightest.
Being first is beautiful, because it's basically a "booya" moment to all people who might feel a black person can't hold the spot or simply never imagined it. At the same time, those expectations can be just as oppressive as the initial exclusion.
White people generally don't have to worry about what being the "first" or the "only" means for the rest of their race, simply because they are rarely looked at as representation of their entire race.
Black people, unfortunately, don't have the luxury to enter a space, be the first or only black person, and just be.
That said, I hope that Rachel Lindsay steals that luxury for herself without apology. Being the "first" anything still does not trump your individuality and your personal needs. If she picks a white guy, cool. If she picks a black guy, cool.
The true way for her to make an impact as the first black Bachelorette is to silence all of the noise, listen to her heart, and make herself proud.