As the 17th season of the ABC reality show The Bachelor nears its finale, the network is looking to cast the next star of sister series The Bachelorette. And if Missee Harris has her way, she will be the one doling out roses to potential beaus. The dentist from Kentucky has all the qualities you’d expect in a Bachelorette star: She’s beautiful, smart, charismatic — and willing to look for love on national television. But one thing may stand in her way: Harris is African-American. In the combined 25 seasons of The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, there has never been a black star (and hardly more than a handful of black contestants). Harris hopes to change that and has launched a campaign to make her dream of being the next Bachelorette a reality.
Accusations of racism against the popular franchise have circulated for years. Not only has the show never cast a person of color as the star, but the tokenism seems obvious — in a show that trots out around 25 beauties each season, only a few are people of color. When black women (such as season 17′s Robyn) do make it through a few rounds, they are eliminated well before the final rounds. In over 20 seasons of the shows, not one person of color has hosted a hometown visit or a night in a fantasy suite.
The charges of discrimination against the show culminated in a 2012 lawsuit filed by two prospective contestants who allege they were rejected because of the color of their skin. A U.S. District Judge dismissed the lawsuit stating that casting decisions were protected by the First Amendment, but in the court of public opinion, it’s well past time for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette to shake things up. One former bachelor, Matt Grant, is speaking out about the need for change. “It is clearly not right that after 10 years of successive seasons there hasn’t been a black ‘Bachelor’ or ‘Bachelorette,’ especially when we have a black president,” he told RadarOnline.com last year. “While I don’t think any of the producers are inherently racist, I just think that mistakes are being made.” In the past, when asked about whether there would ever be a non-white bachelor or bachelorette, producer Mike Fleiss claimed that people of color just “don’t come forward.”Enter Missee Harris.
The Kentucky resident has been making a full-court press to be named the next star of The Bachelorette. “I realized that being the bachelorette would give me a better opportunity to find love and a stronger platform for all of my creative dreams and charity work,” she told The Grio. “It also would allow me to inspire other black women and girls to dream big and know their worth.” While on paper, Harris looks like the perfect contestant, there’s one thing missing from her resume: She’s never been a contestant on The Bachelor. Over the past eight seasons of the show, The Bachelorette tradition has been to choose one of The Bachelor’s cast-offs and give her control of the roses and the mission of finding love. It’s unclear whether Harris will be able to surmount that particular hurdle. Lamar Hurd couldn’t. Hurd, an African-American sportscaster from Portland, threw his hat in the ring for The Bachelor, but the producers opted for Lowe, who was cast off by Bachelorette Emily Maynard in the semi-final round of elimination. It’s a tradition that is slowly turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy where people of color aren’t cast as contestants and thus can never be stars. However, if Harris is not selected, the show has several options to finally cast a woman of color as The Bachelorette. For example, Leslie, who is a professional poker dealer, or Robyn, an oil executive from Texas, who was eliminated by Lowe in the fifth rose ceremony of this season’s Bachelor.