How 'The Bachelorette' Silently Tackled Race in Its Premiere

The Bachelorette Cast - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of ABC

Rachel Lindsay is the first black Bachelorette, but she's never wanted race to be her season's thing.

"I’m just trying to find love, and even though I’m an African-American woman, it’s no different than any other Bachelorette," she said the day after her casting was announced mid-February.

Before she started filming in March, she vowed to not let race define her pursuit of love: "I'm not choosing a man for America, I'm choosing a man for me." 

Then just days ahead of her season premiere, and one week after wrapping production on the season, Lindsay revealed she is engaged and said matter-of-factly, "Race didn’t play in as a factor when it came to choosing men along the way."

Lindsay has been clear from the start that her journey to finding love would be colorblind, and that's exactly how The Bachelorette approached the topic when it launched Monday night.

The 32-year-old Dallas attorney is the first black star in the franchise's 15-year run, over a combined 33 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Though ABC has promoted Lindsay's casting as historic, and made clear to viewers that her group of contestants is the most diverse in show history, host Chris Harrison used a different adjective to describe the season when he addressed viewers during his usual premiere appearance: "Exciting." When Lindsay made her debut in the show's introductory reel, she said her season will be a little different because "I'm just going to be myself." After nearly half of her 31 suitors revealed themselves to be contestants of color, Lindsay and Harrison didn't have a televised powwow about it.

The Bachelorette might be making history, but it's not shouting it from the Bachelor mansion rooftop. 

The diverse backgrounds of Lindsay's men were, however, well on display. At the top of the episode, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette always introduce a handful of contestants with short videos, giving viewers a glimpse into their home life outside the show. On Lindsay's premiere, five of the seven highlighted stories were of nonwhite contestants. One of the men, a fellow prosecutor, bonded with her over being an active member of the black bar association in Texas. She quoted Michael Jackson's "Black or White" while laughing at one of the guys who hid his identity under a penguin costume. 

As far as introductions go, that was about it when it came to The Bachelorette or Lindsay calling out this season's racially inclusive journey. By not making a point of it right out of the gate, The Bachelorette kicked off what appears to be a season that will be focused, as Lindsay wanted, on love and not race.

When speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the premiere, Lindsay returned to the expectations being placed on her by black America to pick a black man. "I couldn’t get caught up in picking a certain man to please a certain community," she said. "In my final decision, I just went with my heart and the person I found my forever with."

She said she ultimately made the decision to be selfish and do what's best for her — "I’m the one who has to love and spend the rest of my life with this person," she explained.

But that doesn't mean she ignored the topic altogether.

During her time competing on The Bachelor — where she also became the first-ever black contestant to receive the series' coveted "first impression rose" on night one — Lindsay's family approached Bachelor Nick Viall about his experience dating interracially during hometown dates. That conversation, which happened toward the end of the season, informed how Lindsay approached the topic with her own contestants.

"If someone wanted to talk about race in the beginning, then we would," she said, adding that she preferred to wait until she knew whether or not they had a connection. "It was not important for me to bring that up until I was going to walk into someone’s home or they were going to walk into mine, and then I just needed to know his thought process and realize that not everybody might be as accepting of our relationship as we are. I just needed to know if they were strong enough to handle that and how they thought about it, or if they thought about it."

Lindsay's first kiss and first-impression rose went to a Colombian contestant, and she again broke tradition by sending only five nonwhite contestants home after night one. In addition to a lack of diversity at the start, the series has taken heat for its diverse contestants being eliminated early on, effectively ruining the chance of the next cycle's lead being a person of color. The trend even spurred Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to write a column on how the show is "killing romance in America." ABC’s response was to have him appear as one of the celebrity guests this season — another sign that the franchise is facing its critics. 

"You will see more diversity go a longer way through my journey," Lindsay promised THR

What did you think of Lindsay's premiere and who wins your first-impression rose? Tell THR in the comments and head here for full coverage of The Bachelorette (airing Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC).

Christina Schoellkopf contributed to this story.