Rachel Lindsay on First Black and Latina 'Bachelorette': "Race Has to Be Part of the Conversation"

Tayshia Adams; Inset: Rachel Lindsay
ABC/Craig Sjodin; Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Tayshia Adams; Inset: Rachel Lindsay

I called out The Bachelor franchise in June, and there is this misconception that was the first time I've called them out. I've been very outspoken. But in 2020, people are starting to hear things and in a way they never did before.

I definitely feel that the producers are listening. Obviously, they can't control what happened with Bachelorette couple Clare Crawley and Dale Moss, but we did see an interracial couple come out of the show. And then to replace Clare with Tayshia Adams speaks volumes. I still think Matt James [being cast as the first Black Bachelor] is a knee-jerk reaction, I stand by that. It's a reaction to the response of what was happening in the country. With Tayshia, though, they could have chosen a number of other people and to me, choosing Tayshia was a statement. I am excited to see that.

When we talk about Tayshia, we have to talk about the fact that she's representing two communities and two cultures, because she's a proud Mexican American. I don't see people talking about that enough, and in that sense, she's a first. She's the first lead that is Black and Latina. When she says she's hoping to represent women who can look to her and how they've never seen themselves represented in that way, she's not just talking as a Black woman — I did that. She's talking as a Black and Latina woman.

When I found out that Tayshia was the new Bachelorette back in July, I said to the show: "You've got to make sure that you discuss the fact that she's biracial. That's a discussion that we don't see enough of on the show and you've had several biracial contestants come on." Matt James is biracial, and I expect to see it on his season as well. In light of what we're going through in 2020, you have to talk about race. Race has to be a part of the conversation. We can't ignore it just because of "the Bachelor bubble." Whoever Tayshia chooses, whatever race and ethnicity they are, they're going to have to deal with that when they step outside of the bubble. So if these conversations aren't being had, then you are doing a disservice to the couple and setting Tayshia up to fail with whoever she ends up with.

With everything that's happening in the world — plus the fact that the franchise has been called out — if you don't address race on the season, then you're ignoring the issues that are happening in the world and it's not real life; you're setting your show up for failure. How are you not talking about the Black Lives Matter movement when it's all that's being talked about in 2020?

I don't want to hear, "America doesn't want to see it." This isn't like us sitting down at the dinner portion of the date on the show, and being told, "America doesn't want to see you eat." That's been the problem with the Bachelor franchise — you keep doing what you think America wants to see and that's why we haven't seen people of color as leads. We've got to stop that cycle. I don't care if it makes America uncomfortable. It's our current reality. So, how are we not having these discussions?

I recently spoke with [ABC reality chief] Rob Mills about changes behind the camera and he said that is happening as well. What I would hope is that they bring more producers in who can sit down with contestants of color so they can relate to them, and understand them. When I was the Bachelorette, they brought in Black producers for the first time. There was a storyline on my season where I kept saying, "This Black male does not date Black women and he's on my season." They were fascinated, because they'd never heard that before. I told them that I live this every day as a Black woman. This isn't an anomaly. I know what this experience is. But it was a new experience for them and they wanted to flush out that storyline. If there had been a Black producer, that probably wouldn't have happened. Somebody would have said, "Maybe this isn't the right thing to do. Maybe this is inappropriate." If you've never experienced it before, if your Black experience is only dealing with the very few contestants who come on this show, how can you relate to people — not just Black people, but people of color — if you don't understand them?

You also need to have people of color behind the camera so that when you are telling the story or showcasing a contestant of color, you don't play into certain stereotypes. In my own experience, in my finale, I became the "angry Black female" when I was sitting onstage and host Chris Harrison told me that I was upset and angry, when I hadn't shown either one of those emotions. Or when contestant Peter Kraus sat next to me and said that I attacked him, and when I asked him how, he couldn't explain it. Those three adjectives played into a stereotype that people have of Black women when they stand up for themselves; when they're outspoken and opinionated. If you had someone who was on set or behind the camera, they would have been able to point that out that and say, "Hey, we can't do that because of this."

And that's why I was critical about the promo of Tayshia when they first acknowledged that she was going to be the next Bachelorette — they showed her coming out of a pool and that was it. You haven't done that for any other Bachelorette and there's a history of Black women being objectified; only looked at as their bodies being used for sex. It goes back to being on plantations and being raped by their masters. That clip plays into a stereotype. I'm pretty sure Tayshia is a lot more than her assets, but that's all they gave us to announce that this Bachelorette was coming. At that point, you had footage of her in a limousine and in a gown, and you didn't show that.

I also know that they are working specifically with a diversity consultant. Everyone has to go through a training and the consultant works hand-in-hand with all of the talent, the contestants, the people behind the camera and the decision-makers. That's impressive and I'm happy to see it. Because me calling out the franchise is not to shame them. The Bachelor, to me, isn't on the right side of history. And I feel a responsibility to hold them accountable to be more inclusive, so other people can get an opportunity to have these same happy endings — and not just people who are Black, but people who are Latinx, Asian and Indian. We need to see more of it.

If the problem is going to be fixed, it has to start at the top. I haven't seen that happen. For the system to change, it has to be people who can actually make that change. Leads and producers are not necessarily fixing it; it has to be with executive producers. Who are you putting in a role who's the decision-maker who can change the system? I see changes being made for sure. But to my knowledge, there is no person of color that can make changes and I think that needs to happen.

As for how to handle any upcoming criticism as the lead, my advice to both Tayshia and Matt is that people are hateful. People are mean and racist, and they are more comfortable being those things than they ever have before. That is just a testament to the society that we live in. The best way to prepare Tayshia is knowing that it will happen. Don't think that because you did everything right or because you followed your heart or because you're beautiful or that I paved the way for you — that they've seen a person of color before — don't think it won't happen to you. Because it will.

That's why it's so important to have these discussions about what’s happening in our society and, particularly, with race. Tayshia is a woman of color and she and her final pick have to make sure to be united when they announce to the world that they are a couple. You have to be standing on the same foot when people come at you, because they will.

Rachel Lindsay is an attorney and media personality who starred on the 13th season of ABC's The Bachelorette in 2017. Lindsay — who is married to her winner, Bryan Abasolo — also co-hosts the Bachelor Nation podcast Bachelor Happy Hour.