In Movies and on TV, Racism Made Plain

None of this was terribly new for a show like this. “Conniving” belongs in any contestant’s toolbox. But Lee tarred his black opponents as scary and violent. His tools were hoary. When another contestant — Will, a handsome black sales manager — offered him some context for why calling Kenny (or any black male) “aggressive” might be a problem, Lee rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t understand the race card.”

He does, however, understand racism. At some point during the show’s run, lots of Lee’s old tweets surfaced. They were homophobic, anti-Muslim and sexist. His comparison, in one, of the N.A.A.C.P. to the K.K.K. felt almost Trumpian. Apparently, the people who make “The Bachelorette” could envision marrying off a black bachelorette only if in the process it risked a race war, even a banal one.

The week before the final episode, the show gathered some of its contestants, including Lee and Kenny, to rehash their behavior in front of a live audience. The men — and not only the black ones — seemed baffled and truly hurt as they confronted and chastised Lee: What was he doing on a dating show starring a black woman? There was something powerfully novel in seeing a handful of black men confronting a white racist.

But it became fascinatingly fruitless television. They did so much talking about the wrongs of Lee’s racism that he was barely required to answer for himself. The show seemed to want us to feel bad for his being singled out, even though Lee only sort of seemed to understand the trouble he was in. Someone even offered to hug it out with him, and I screamed into my pillow. Whether or not the show encouraged him to lie about being assaulted, Lee managed to evoke a whole dismaying history of black men being falsely accused by white people of all kinds of violence. At this point, what would a hug resolve? It’s the water pill of racial reconciliation.

It would be a pitiful defense, but the makers of “The Bachelorette” could always point to that live special as an attempt to solve a problem — even one they had invented! Isn’t a water pill preferable to whatever Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor got up to last month? They toured four cities together to promote their desperately anticipated, stupefyingly lucrative boxing match on Saturday, Aug. 26, that Showtime will broadcast by pay-per-view.

The tour made a quick descent into a kind of racial taunting that felt…

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