The centerpiece of The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All special was the return of Lee, a racist contestant who during the show, targeted black competitors with passive-aggressive troublemaking and before the show, tweeted all kinds of extraordinarily offensive bits of bigotry. Viewers were psyched for Lee to get verbally beat down by Rachel, the first black Bachelorette whose show he made about him, at least for awhile, as well as the men he'd wronged, especially Kenny. But that's not exactly what we got. He got dragged a little, but it was in the service of trying to educate him and show him the error of his ways. The black men he'd been racist toward didn't write him off completely; instead, they gave him the opportunity to apologize and own his mistakes and grow as a person. They even said they'd help teach him.
The Bachelorette has made mistakes around race this season — namely having Lee on at all — but this was handled well, largely because the show turned the reins over to Anthony and Will and Josiah and Kenny and Rachel at the end, who all knew how to handle the situation. They've met racists before. They didn't absolve him of his sins, but they gave him a path toward earning forgiveness. Hopefully, Lee truly appreciates what an incredible kindness they're doing for him and that he is sincere in his desire to learn how to overcome the conditioning that makes him see black people (and women — Lee said misogynistic things, too) as inferior.
Anthony just taught Lee the meaning of implicit racism; this Bachelorette episode is a critical race theory class #TheBachelorette— The Feminist Vegan Ⓥ (@sarahdoyel) August 1, 2017
Or maybe Lee is just racist. The tweets of Lee's they showed during the show weren't the worst ones. They could have shown the one calling Black Lives Matter a "terrorist group" or the one calling the shooting of Alton Brown, who was killed by police in Baton Rouge last year while they pinned him to the ground, a liberal narrative. Maybe Lee thinks of himself as a conservative internet troll who exaggerates and says outrageous things because he likes that they make liberals angry, not because he totally believes them. This kind of person doesn't fully understand that the things they say really hurt people and a big part of that is because they don't get called on it face-to-face. Lee did get called on it, on TV, by people he hurt and who were willing and able to tell him exactly why he was wrong.
That's an intense situation to be in — Lee was literally shaking in his cowboy boots — and Lee did apologize and denounce what he said. But only after they set him up to do it after hammering him for 30 minutes. Before that, he used every "I'm not racist" dodge — it was a joke, Twitter formatted it wrong and made his intention unclear, he's changed since he said those things. But after Anthony explained implicit racism to him, he called Anthony "well-spoken," so he hasn't changed. He's still surprised when a black man is articulate.
It's hard to accept that Lee's apology is sincere and that he wants to learn. He has a documented history as a liar — he finally admitted that the "Kenny tried to pull me out of a van" story he told Rachel was made up. I get the sense that he's saying whatever will get people off his back. He's willing to do the bare minimum to make himself look he's making progress. He's not sorry he's racist, he's sorry he got caught. And I'm not alone in thinking that Lee is still just trying to slither his way out of tight spot.
But if Lee is sincere, and if Rachel and the guys are willing to have conversations with him about black history and women's history, he better take them up on it. They're treating him with respect and kindness when they'd be justified in turning their backs to him. Kenny, the nicest guy on the season and the guy who got the worst of Lee's racism, even hugged him. They don't owe Lee anything and yet, they're willing to help him. That's some beautiful, reach-across-the-aisle goodness.
Lee's white privilege is what even got him in the position to be able to come back and explain himself and be given a shot at redemption. Hopefully, he can grow to recognize that. Hopefully, he gets a reading list and has some more tough conversations and does some thorough soul-searching. If he squanders this opportunity, he'll be even worse than he was before.
The Bachelorette airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.