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‘The Bachelorette’ Leans on a Racial Conflict, and Nobody Wins

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Rachel Lindsay on “The Bachelorette,” with, from left, Alex, Adam, Peter and Kenny.

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Thomas Lekdorf/ABC

Another season of “The Bachelorette” is underway on ABC, and unlike Lee, The New York Times is still here for the right reasons. Our resident obsessives are following Rachel Lindsay’s love journey while playing handball in uncomfortably tight singlets. Can we steal you for a sec?

JOE COSCARELLI If last week’s episode of “The Bachelorette” — in which Lee, the Nashville singer-songwriter, revealed himself to be the insufferable kindling for this season’s inevitable racial bonfire — was a bit coded in its discussion of “cultural” differences, this week’s two-night affair made things explicit. Or at least as explicit — for just a minute — as talk of white supremacy is going to get on a prime-time network juggernaut.

The not-so-radical teachable moments started on Monday’s episode, with Lee attempting to needle Kenny into foolishness — and nearly succeeding. (“I’m here to mess with everybody,” Lee, who is never subtle, told the camera.) But it was in a break from the main head-to-head action that the show feinted at excavating the subtext that had Kenny so heated: The understated Will — bless his heart — somehow took upon himself the unpleasant task of explaining to Lee why his choice of language when describing his disagreement with Kenny was essentially crypto-racism.

“When you call him aggressive — there is a longstanding history in this country of regarding black men in America as aggressive to justify a lot of other things,” Will said, spelling out what Kenny wouldn’t. “I don’t think he meant to play the race card; I think he truly was offended by that choice of words.” Lee, predictably, continued to harp on the playing of said “race card.”

The whole exchange had the unpleasant air of an after-school special for this woke-ish pop-cultural moment, but the space between Will’s patience and empathy and Lee’s defiant petulance at least made it nearly impossible for the show to humanize the ignorant white guy. Now, obviously, Will’s history lesson got cut short and any moment that could pass for educational is rare in the “Bachelor” universe. But it did have me genuinely wondering: Is it possible that someone watching at home could have learned to think twice before glibly labeling a black man “aggressive”? I don’t mean to be naïve, but then again, I am watching a reality dating show that’s supposed to end in marriage.

CARYN GANZ Nobody’s going to fault you for wanting to believe in the power of reality-TV learning, Joe. But reality shows never change. One of the most amusing paradoxes of all the “Bachelor” franchises is how much the love-seekers profess a need for trust — something not easily gained in a month of “dating” a large pool of people under circumstances that in no way resemble real life — and how little the producers earn ours. Like a “Bachelorette” newbie, I fell for the promo spot this week where we were led to believe that the show’s powder keg of uncomfortable racial dynamics would ignite.

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