Monday night's "Women Tell All" special reunited 17 of the 28 contestants from this season of The Bachelor, but the most compelling moment had nothing to do with Ben Higgins, the object of their mutual affection. The three black women featured on the show (Jubilee Sharpe, Amber James, and Jami Letain) found themselves embroiled in an argument onstage.
Amber and Jami are biracial, half black and half white; Jubilee—a fan favorite, despite experiencing tension with some of the other women in the house—is Haitian-American. Jami accused Jubilee of claiming that she was the only "real black girl" on their season, and that she "would be the first full black woman to make it far on this show."
"I would joke around and say, 'Oh, I’m the token Canadian this season,' and you’d say, 'I’m the real black girl,'" Jami said.
Jubilee initially denied this characterization, clarifying, "I might have said I was bringing some diversity, but I would never say that I’m the 'real black girl' on the show."
Amber, too, expressed her personal discomfort with Jubilee: "When I first met you, I was like, she’s cool and everything, and then you’d say these little comments to us, and I would take offense to it. Hearing the n-word, or hearing things like, you’re not black enough, that hurt, and that’s why I was standoffish to you a little bit."
When the show returned from a commercial break, Jubilee was visibly upset.
"I do say something like that, like I will say 'I'm full black,' but I don't think that's offensive," Jubilee said, "I'm full black."
She ultimately apologized to her castmates. Amber and Jami's issue with Jubilee seems to hinge on that distinction between "real black" and "full black." To negate someone else's blackness is certainly problematic, but it's also hard to imagine finding fault with Jubilee for taking pride in her own identity.
Vox's Alisha Ramos offered insight into Amber and Jami's perspective in her newsletter, Mixed Feelings, this morning:
"When you are mixed race, you are constantly in battle with other people assigning you a race. You almost never get to decide what you are. Others guess from the way you look. Sometimes the way you act and speak, as was the case with Amber and Jami. That assigned race is then what you are, and how you are treated. What is more complex is that what race one large group of people you may be completely different from what another group assigns you, which then might be even different from what you assign yourself. I could see the threads of that surfacing in last night's discussion. This is complicated and losing control of your identity can hurt or confuse. It does most of the time."
It was surreal to see this notoriously whitewashed franchise explicitly address race at all, and maybe this conversation—uncomfortable as it was—should be considered a step in the right direction.
That said, this feels like a convenient copout on the part of The Bachelor. To see women of color (who are poorly represented among the cast to begin with) pitted against each other is disheartening, particularly given the show's troubling history of relying on the "angry black woman" trope.
What about the other microaggressions perpetrated against Jubilee throughout the course of the season? Who will answer for those? Lauren H., the white cast member who said that Jubilee couldn't possibly get along with "the other soccer moms"—a comment that was actually replayed for all to see during this episode—is not taken to task by host Chris Harrison for her remarks.
Second runner-up Caila Quinn, who is half Filipina, is rumored to be the network's choice for the upcoming season of The Bachelorette. If so, she would be the show's first non-white star in its history, a landmark moment for sure. But it's not enough simply to cast people of color—the franchise must treat them with the same respect as it does its white contestants, who should be held equally responsible for any insensitive remarks they make about race. Now more than ever, it's painfully obvious how much work remains to be done.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.