The Bachelor: Why It Matters That Matt James Is Biracial
Season 25 of The bachelor premiered last week and introduced us to the eligible Gent Matt James, aka the first black bachelor in the series. Unless you brushed up on every detail of Matt’s life before the premiere, you might have been surprised to learn that Matt is indeed biracial. Although his mother is white, society identifies Matt as black under America’s nefarious one-drop rule: one drop of black blood makes a person black, regardless of whether or not a parent is of any other race. The one-drop rule may be an outdated way of measuring black identity in American culture, but it’s still the yardstick by which Matt James’s undergraduate season is defined.
“Although the one-drop rule no longer has the same legal status as it used to, it has continued to inform the American racial hierarchy as well as our assignment of black racial identity.”
The one-drop rule of race classification goes back to enslavement when white male slave masters refused to grant their children the racial privilege of non-consensual relationships with black women. The rule grew out of the need to maintain racial superiority both psychologically and economically, and so shaped the experience of blacks in America. The decree is one of the first known discriminatory practices to be upheld in the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson ruling (aka segregated but equal) that kept segregation legal. Although the one-drop rule no longer has the same legal status as it used to, it has continued to inform the American racial hierarchy as well as our assignment of black racial identity. His legacy continues to affect society’s narrow definition of blackness, which focuses solely on physical traits such as hair and skin color.
Even in a society endowed with more contemporary terms like biracial, which are supposed to be more comprehensive in describing racial identity, the one-drop rule remains the criterion for defining who is white or not – a rule that only applies to them applies with black descent to which other racial groups are not bound. Matt James is no exception to this phenomenon; There is no opt-out of blackness as his blackness dictates how he is perceived in society and on the show.
We see this in other biracial Bachelor franchise castmates, most recently Bachelorette Tayshia Adams and contestant Ivan Hall, who had a painful but authentic moment discussing race and the Black Lives Matter movement. Although Tayshia is Mexican and black and Ivan is Filipino and black, the commonality in the experience expressed in their conversation was their black identity, not their biracial identity, an example of the spread of the one-drop rule.
In the call for more racial diversity continues The bachelorThis historic season is sure to bring racial identity conversations to the fore. The first episode highlighted the franchise’s efforts to address its lack of diversity in casting, as well as the representational burden James felt as the first black bachelor. I hope the show digs deeper into more themes as the season progresses, opening a dialogue about colorism, the decentering of whites, micro-aggressions, and the occasional anti-black racism that is embedded in pop culture.
We hope that by talking about topics that were once taboo, we can confront our centuries-old denial of race as an important factor in our lives, even when we are uncomfortable with doing so. After all, Matt James is synonymous with the first black bachelor label, not the first biracial bachelor, for just one drop.