Commentary: On TV, It's Still Better to Be Light, or Just Plain White

Commentary: On TV, It's Still Better to Be Light, or Just Plain White

Recent race scandals involving ABC’s The Bachelor and the color-ist casting call for a Super Bowl car commercial hark back to the days before integration.

Published April 18, 2012

ABC's The Bachelor (Photo: ABC)

It seems as if ever since a certain sector of Americans began to believe the fairy tale that our country has entered a post-racial era, evidence to the contrary has become more and more impossible ignore.


Tuesday, Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, two African-American football players from Nashville, Tennessee, announced they will file a class-action lawsuit against producers of ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for their inability to cast people of color as lead over the show’s 23 seasons, spanning 10 years. The lack of non-white suitors on the show has not gone unnoticed, but Claybrooks’ and Johnson’s attempt at suing the network should be a jolt of reality for the show’s producers who seem to feel like the only kind of love viewers will watch is of the lily-white variety.


The men plan to file suit in federal court on Wednesday, when concrete details of the claim will emerge, but on the face of what Claybrooks and Johnson allege, the suit presents many thorny legal issues that have not previously been decided together in one case. Among the challenges is the fact that most reality show stars are not employees, but independent contractors, and thus, have less protections against discrimination. Other hurdles are the need to present evidence that producers explicitly looked over minority contestants and also providing proof that the plaintiffs suffered financial losses as a result of not being chosen.


Outside of what the two can prove legally, its clear that the network has a problem with believing that an attractive Black woman or man can woo the hearts of viewers and a pool of eligible daters.


Either way, Claybrooks and Johnson’s suit will shine a light on our society’s attempt to force post-racialism by either ignoring the existence of people of color altogether or attempting to “normalize” us physically and culturally to make our addition more palatable.


Elsewhere in TV-land this week, an African-American actor leaked a casting document for a Super Bowl commercial he was rejected for because he didn’t match the profile casting directors desired. The audition document called for someone to play the role of an African-American car dealer but requested that the actor be, “nice looking, friendly, not too dark.”


Unfortunately, the casting direction sounds like an exact description of the threshold of what mainstream American society can withstand in terms of multiculturalism:  A world where everyone who isn’t white is nice looking, friendly and not too dark.  


UPDATE: Acura has now apologized. "We apologize to anyone offended by the language on the casting sheet used in the selection of actors for one of our commercials. We sought to cast an African-American in a prominent role in the commercial, and we made our selection based on the fact that he was the most talented actor," the auto maker said in a statement.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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Written by Naeesa Aziz


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