Hopping out of limousines to meet her for the first time, some of the guys resorted to gimmicks that felt a bit contrived: breaking a block of ice with a sledgehammer (breaking the ice — get it?), bringing a creepy mannequin as a conversation starter, walking up with a marching band and, of course, Lucas with his frat-guy-at-a-kegger obnoxiousness and mini-bullhorn.

Also as usual, there wasn’t much acknowledgement of the elephant in the room. Though host Chris Harrison began the episode by saying, “Let’s take a look at the bachelorette everybody’s talking about,” he never really said why people were talking about her. One of the black men noted how diverse the pool of suitors was and there was an awkward moment where the episode ended with several suitors freestyle rapping. (Really, Bachelorette?)

For some, that may be a great development; a way to emphasize the universality of everyone’s experience. But The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchises have always glorified an ideal culture that is both upper-middle class and very white. Even among the 23 men left, just eight are black, so the contestant pool will be still dominated by white men. And in the preview scenes flashed at the episode’s end, it seems they’ll be enjoying the typical array of luxury resorts and getaway experiences — places and activities that rarely include other black people.

From the show’s perspective, this was likely a home run: They presented a diverse field of contestants and a black bachelorette without upsetting the bedrock formula that makes this “reality TV” soap opera successful. (According to previews, we can look forward to one suitor’s surprise girlfriend bursting onto the show and ramping up the drama).

But for those of us hoping to see some of the show’s basic messaging about culture, class and race changed, it was a disappointment. True diversity isn’t just about expecting black people to assimilate into a mostly white world; it’s about widening that world to reflect the experiences of everyone in it. With any luck, maybe they’ll get around to that before this season is over.

Copyright NPR 2017

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