Op-Ed: A Former ‘Bachelor’ Contestant on the Show’s Racial Reckoning

“The microaggressions never aired, but my reaction to a lot of them did.”

Marshana Dahlia Spavento, née Ritchie, is a wife, mother, blogger & reality TV personality. She starred on Season 12 of The Bachelor. Below she reflects on her own experience as a Black woman on the show, and responds to longtime host Chris Harrison’s decision to step back following a controversial interview in which he defended a current contestant’s past racist actions.

My mother’s favorite show was The Bachelor. Her love for the show inspired me to apply. When I first heard I’d get a spot on Season 12, I really didn’t think much would come of it. Yet, there I was 27, excited, ready for love and Malibu-bound. Little did I know at the time I would end up in the top six of women left.

Until that point, everyone had been very kind, thoughtful, supportive and even friendly. The reality of Bachelor Mansion however, was very different. While the producers, production assistants, the Bachelor himself and yes, even Chris Harrison, were very kind to me, it became apparent that the other women would not be the same. 

On a fiercely popular show about love, marriage and family, the conversation naturally turned to the families of the contestants, especially as we approached hometown dates. On one particular morning, I recall gathering in a circle and sharing our parental history. As my turn approached, one young lady said, in all sincerity, “So, do you know who your father is?”

As the only Black contestant on Season 12, and the only woman of any color, I was alarmed I was the only one assumed to be from a broken home. “Why would I not know my father?” I responded. If I were not Black, and from inner Brooklyn, this would never have been questioned. Not only did I know my father, my parents, at that time, had also been happily married for 35 years. They remained married until death parted them in 2018, with the passing of my mother. 

Over the weeks we filmed the show, I found myself on the receiving end of much prejudice. Assumptions that I was not college educated, would have a child out of wedlock, or that any disagreement with me would result in fisticuffs, were made, repeatedly. 

These microaggressions never aired, but my reaction to a lot of them did. It was cumbersome. Being the only Black woman on my season, for me, presented a unique situation. My ultimate fear was playing into negative stereotypes typically levied against Black women. The weight of this responsibility, to not only avoid degrading myself, and my family, but also my entire race, took its toll on me. 

There wasn’t anyone present I felt comfortable discussing these feelings with. The isolation was oppressive. Often, I couldn’t focus on deciphering whether Matt Grant was a man I could marry, but rather how to handle the pressure I felt — pressure that no one else around me could relate to. 

That was 2008.

Over a decade later, I’ve seen the franchise make much progress. For the first time, The Bachelor is a Black man. It’s growth that was long overdue, and a change I welcomed, no matter how deferred it was. 

I hoped Chris Harrison would have championed this change both on and off the show. To see his interview with Rachel Lindsay about current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell’s racist past behavior was disheartening. It became evident there was much he didn’t understand about the need to eradicate it.

While Harrison made valid points about being empathetic and understanding towards Rachael Kirkconnell, he himself didn’t employ that same sense of empathy, to understand why Black people in particular, would be offended by Ms. Kirkconnell’s prior behavior. 

Harrison’s decision to step back is one I support. My hope is that he will use this time to reflect on what we all observed in his interview with Mrs. Lindsay. Sometimes, things like this can serve as a catalyst for changed behavior. I believe that it was necessary for the evolution of Chris Harrison. 

Moving ahead, The Bachelor needs to create a safe space where contestants of color, and those who aren’t, can have open dialog surrounding race. It is in these open and fair exchanges that true evolution happens. If we can change the way we speak, then we can influence thoughts and actions. 

Furthermore, the show should hire producers and camera staff that is indicative of the diversity they seek to portray. We need a seat at the table. Diversity shouldn’t be reserved for on-camera talent, but for all aspects of the show — from casting, production and beyond. 

The Bachelor franchise is iconic, and I think Mr. Harrison is an important piece of the show’s legacy. In time, I believe he can make a triumphant return to the show, with renewed understanding and empathy. Until then, an interim host should be appointed while Chris educates himself, and works on listening to understand, rather than to counter, deflect and rebut. 

Being part of Bachelor Nation is something I cherish. In 2008, my opportunities to grow within the franchise, and even outside of it, were not what they are today. When I see the success of each class of contestants, particularly contestants of color, who have grown in rank and number, year after year, I am delighted. 

The show is all about love, and this controversy presents a unique opportunity to showcase love beyond romance. The show has an opportunity to display the love and compassion we can — and should — have for each other. It’s a time where it can highlight just how dynamic love can be, and embrace love’s unique power to heal, as only love can. 

Marshana Dahlia Spavento, née Ritchie, is a wife, mother, blogger & reality TV personality. 

Marshana made her network television debut on ABC’s long standing hit series, The Bachelor, in 2008. Then in 2015, she was a series lead on Bravo’s Friends To Lovers. Most recently Marshana’s journey for corrective foot surgery was chronicled on TLC’s hit show, My Feet Are Killing Me in 2020. 

Originally hailing from Brooklyn, NY, Marshana now resides in Plantation, FL, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, with her husband, and their three month old son, Luciano Antonio. She enjoys motherhood, and chronicling her experiences on her newly launched site, marshanadahlia.com