The Bachelor, Racism, and Frogs

What just happened on The Bachelor is more a reflection of American life today than what happened in Washington with former President Trump's impeachment trial.  Yes, I am talking about The Bachelor, the (mostly ridiculous) television show I haven't watched in at least 15 years.

In case you missed it, this season's Bachelor is Matt James, the first Black Bachelor in the show's long history. 

One contestant competing for James’s affection is Rachael Kirkconnell, a 24-year-old white woman from Georgia.   

A photo recently surfaced of Kirkconnell attending an annual “antebellum” fraternity party a few years ago.  No matter that she was in college, that the party was presumably sanctioned by the college, and that she is in the midst of falling in love with James on the show, she was immediately labeled “racist” by the social media police.  

The show's longtime host, Chris Harrison, was interviewed about the controversy on the show Extra by Rachel Lindsay, a former Bachelorette herself.  Lindsay was the first Black Bachelorette in the show’s history (in 2017).  They discussed Kirkconnell and the controversy around the photo and social media’s quick condemnation of her as a “racist.”  

After the interview, the PC police immediately pounced on Harrison, calling him a racist, too, for perpetuating or not recognizing racism by his failure to instantly condemn Kirkconnell before he had even spoken with her.   

My guess is that fewer than 1% of people who jumped on Harrison even bothered to watch the interview.  I did, and he said nothing racist.  Go ahead, actually watch it.

Instead, in the interview, Harrison was balanced, nuanced, and authentic, saying little controversial.  He did not defend Kirkconnell. He mainly said he was waiting to hear what she had to say, that we should demonstrate grace when judging others, and that standards are evolving so fast that what is deemed wrong today may not have been so clear just a few years ago.    

He said at least a dozen times, “I don’t know” when it comes to judging and gauging Kirkconnell's conduct.  Lindsay, the interviewer, seemed to agree with many of his points, and never said or suggested Harrison's responses were "racist" or insensitive.  

No matter, the backlash against Harrison - not Kirkconnell - was so immediate and harsh that Harrison has now, at least temporarily, stepped aside from the show.  

But that's not the most telling part.  This is: when the backlash came, and people demanded Harrison's head, Harrison did not try to defend himself.   

Instead, he said he deserves it.  He said his statements during the interview were indeed racist.  Like someone entering a state-sponsored re-education camp, he wrote, "I am so grateful for those who have reached out to help me on my path to anti-racism."  

Whatever Harrison’s motivation for now falling on his sword -- to save his job, true enlightenment, or some societal pathology now going on -- he effectively proclaims: “yes, I am a racist, I am sorry, I deserve my condemnation."  

Almost ironically, during the interview Harrison spoke repeatedly about “grace” and giving others time to speak before we all pounce and judge.  But after cautioning against a knee jerk "cancel culture" when discussing Kirkconnell, Harrison now embraces his own cancelling!  

It is an example of the “evolution” of when people are now “canceled” for even passive “transgressions,” they are conditioned to reflexively say, like in the gulag or a cult, “forgive me Father for I have sinned, I am a racist, I am abhorrent, I am part of an abhorrent society, and it is appropriate I now pay societal penance.”  

Harrison is not alone.  Last week it was longtime New York Times reporter Donald McNeil Jr., who when forced to resign called himself a racist.  Drew Brees, the star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, likewise fell on his own racist sword for having the audacity to share his opinion that athletes should stand during our national anthem.    

The list goes on and on and may soon include you. No one is immune.  Any slight or offense, however small, and whether real, imagined or meritorious can be your end.  

I have a friend, a liberal gent, who owns a small computer company, but he has never hired a Black programmer.  Gotcha!  Another sends his kid to a Catholic school.  Gotcha!  Another has the audacity to live in a suburb that is 96% white and less than 1% Black.  Gotcha!  Perhaps another told a bad joke or, worse, uttered a racial epithet when she was 15.  Gotcha!  

Or perhaps you just wear the wrong mittens, like Bernie Sanders did, and again, gotcha!  

Beware: all potentially can be banished.    

There is a word for all this, and however well-intentioned by some, it is not "progress" or "healing."  It is, at best, "punitive," and at worst, "sick."  

Sadly, it will get worse and more likely set back, rather than advance, racial understanding and tolerance.  It creates a culture of fear, not dialog.     

Tellingly, these public shaming’s and self-flagellations emanate from a self-proclaimed “progressive,” “liberal,” “tolerant” culture.  I think it is the opposite.    

It is instead as illiberal as any "Red Scare" Senator McCarthy dreamt up in the 1950's.  It seems more appropriate for Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel the "Scarlet Letter" than it does a supposed tolerant, healing society.   

Ask any therapist, and whether on an individual level or national one, shaming and outing rarely lead to productive, authentic, healthy change. 

To be sure, America is not racially perfect, and frankly never will be.  But if for too long we were racially insensitive, query whether a society can be too racially hypersensitive.   

As President Biden might even say in his folksy way: “C’mon, man, this is no way to heal or unite a nation.”  

When I was a kid, the goal and thought was to be race blind, to judge people based on their character, just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached.  All people - Black and White, but especially the left and liberals - advocated treating people fairly and not based on their skin.  That was the goal and living in an integrated neighborhood, we mostly achieved it.  

But today many of these same folks advocate the opposite: namely, that we should be hyper aware of race in all we do and say, and that when we look at any person of color, we should see their race first, not their character or humanity or conduct.   

And if you don’t, or dare to question this new orthodoxy, then you too are racist and cast aside, unless you beg for mercy and show extreme contrition, as Harrison did, in which case you may reduce the harshness of your decree or delay banishment to the gulag.  But make no mistake, you are thereafter forever damaged goods.  

This “movement” is a societal cancer that masquerades as an elixir, making it hard to detect. It is the proverbial false friend, and thus more dangerous than an overt enemy.   

It all makes me think of frogs. Yes frogs. Frogs put in a pot of water.  As the temperature is turned up - so long as it is not turned up too fast - what do the frogs do?    

Answer: nothing.  They don’t jump out.  They don’t signal to other frogs. They just sit there and slowly take it, compliantly dying with no resistance and even a smile on their faces, failing to recognize what is actually going on.    

And if the rare frog somehow understands her reality and dares jump out, she is not thrown back into the pot, she instead is immediately crushed by her cooks.  Splat.  After all, such insight and resistance are dangerous.  Other frogs might be awakened.  

Ribbit. 

A Harvard Law School graduate, William Choslovsky is a lawyer in Chicago.  He was born and first bred in Gary, Indiana, where he was one of the few White kids in an otherwise all Black kindergarten.  Next, he was raised in the very integrated south suburbs of Chicago (Homewood Flossmoor) where his neighbors were Black, who remain dear friends today.  In college he was a big brother for three years to a young, single parent, deprived Black boy.  After law school, he clerked for Wiley Daniel, the first Black federal judge in Colorado history, and grew so close that he gave the eulogy at Judge Daniel's funeral 24 years later.  He also served as the co-chair of the Diversity Committee at his former law firm.  He has spent the last year representing four African American educators and coaches wrongly suspended and defamed by Chicago Public Schools.  His kids first dates to their high school dance were African American.  Though he loves Blues music, he has absolutely no rhythm.  😊  As he believes in Dr. King's philosophy of judging people based on the content of their character, he thinks all these (racial) details are, or should be, irrelevant.  Even so, he is near certain this commentary will render him "racist" by some for having the audacity to simply share some facts, make observations, and express a contrarian, if not cautionary, opinion.