Over the past year, the Bachelor franchise has used its leads as inspiration to take on complex issues like sexuality and religion. With Monday's episode of The Bachelor: Women Tell All, however, the franchise switched the focus to Peter Weber's contestants to tackle the issue of online hate and harassment, much of which targeted women of color this season.
In an emotional segment, Rachel Lindsay read verbatim a string of discriminatory comments which had been left on contestants' social media pages, including attacks on women's looks, accusations they were "pulling the black card" and threats of violence. "You're an emotional stupid b**ch. Kill yourself. You’re useless," read one comment.
"I'm shaking as I'm reading this because it's shocking, it's uncomfortable," Lindsay said on the episode with tears in her eyes. "I know it's uncomfortable for you to see. Just imagine how uncomfortable it is to get this in your comments and your DMs every day, every week, every month. And you guys, that's just the tip of the iceberg."
The most brutal of the remarks targeted contestant Sydney Hightower. The Alabama native, who had previously opened up on the show about the despicable racism she experienced in high school, broke down crying on stage; she, Lindsay and the rest of the cast condemned the hateful comments and begged for the behavior to stop.
Hightower inspired the segment after reaching out to Lindsay for guidance, and told ET the segment is one she'll never forget. "People don't realize we are human beings at the end of the day, that their words hurt," she said. "Especially for someone that's been through this their whole life, having those wounds reopened is hard."
"We didn't sign up to be bashed like that," added Shiann Lewis, who has also been on the receiving end of racist comments as Weber's season aired. Tammy Ly told ET, "For too long now, people were getting away with this… coming after me with racial slurs and death threats is unacceptable."
Host Chris Harrison, who introduced Lindsay to lead the conversation, told ET it was an important addition to the Tell All. "This isn’t strong opinions or criticism these contestants are receiving, this is hate and there’s just no room for that," he shared. "The show won't stand for it and I won't stand for it."
Part of what made Monday's Tell All segment so powerful was that Lindsay, the franchise's first and only black Bachelorette, could relate to what Weber's contestants were going through.
The former Texas-based attorney represents the franchise's first big push towards inclusivity, though people of color have appeared sporadically throughout the franchise since its first season in 2002. Season six Bachelor Byron Velvick notably proposed in Spanish to his final pick, Mary Delgado, so her Spanish-speaking parents could understand him. Tessa Horst became the first Asian winner of The Bachelor after Andrew Baldwin's proposal in 2007. The next woman of color to win a Bachelor season came in 2013, when Catherine Giudici accepted Sean Lowe's proposal on the season 17 finale. She credited her success with Lowe (whom she married in 2014) to his dating preferences pre-Bachelor.
"[Producers] bring the lead -- I hate to say this -- options that [he or she] are attracted to," Giudici told ET last December. "Sean Lowe has dated all different types of races before, so I think that's why it works really well in our season, that he chose somebody that wasn't white."
The mom of three noted the franchise's recent strides with inclusion and praised efforts to continue to add diversity. "The Bachelor has a very diverse audience. So, being able to be seen and showcase a variety of different types of people, I think is really smart," Giudici said. She also noted, however, that she doesn't give Bachelor production "a ton of flack" when seasons feature a majority-white cast, "because it's really up to [the lead's] attraction."
In the fall of 2013, after 17 seasons, ABC announced its first-ever non-white Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis, a former soccer pro who was born in the United States, but grew up in his parents' native Venezuela. In 2016, then-ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey admitted she'd like to see even more changes in the casting process to increase diversity. Slowly but surely, more women of color were featured as contestants. In 2017, Lindsay was named the first black Bachelorette.
"Originally I felt a lot of pressure, because who doesn't have pressure being the first at anything?" Lindsay told ET shortly after her casting was announced February that year. "But at the same time… I'm so humbled and honored to be the one chosen to take on this role and this experience."
Lindsay's season was the most diverse season of the Bachelor franchise, and remains so to this day. She gave her final rose to Bryan Abasolo, a Miami-based chiropractor of Colombian descent; they married last August.
Never afraid to speak up, especially on issues important to her, Lindsay made headlines last year as one of the first critics of Weber's casting as the Bachelor. "How many Peters have we seen before? What season are we on? 24. So, we've seen 24 Peters. I'm bored," she said in a September interview with ET. "For the first time, I was very confident that we were going to see our first black Bachelor. And so if no one else is going to speak on it, then I guess it's my duty to say it."
Weber is half-Cuban, but Lindsay was rooting for Mike Johnson, Weber’s fellow castoff from Hannah Brown's season of The Bachelorette, who was a fan favorite and would have been the first black Bachelor. Lindsay passionately stated that on The Bachelor, the "system isn't working" for people of color -- and Johnson agreed. The Air Force vet told ET in September, "after 24 Bachelors, a black Bachelor should have been cast."
"I think of diversity more than just black and white. And yes, Peter has a Cuban mom, but let's just be honest -- he's white, right? And that's just being completely transparent," Johnson said. "I think that there should be an Asian lead, an Indian lead.”
Longtime Bachelor executive producer Martin Hilton told ET in January that diversity is something production is constantly thinking of how to incorporate "in an organic way."
"We do what we can to bring people in from all [types of backgrounds] -- particularly looking for people of color, for sure," he said. "We're trying to figure out how to do that better."
The Bachelor franchise has "no quota" for diversity, Hilton said. "We're just looking -- and it's getting harder and harder, by the way -- to find people who are really authentically there [to find love]."
Weber told ET in January that diversity was something he encouraged and embraced. "I loved having the opportunity to date a lot of people from different walks of life, maybe women I wouldn't have dated or had the opportunity to date before," he shared.
The 28-year-old pilot was also looking forward to bringing his own culture and background to the forefront of the franchise. "My Cuban roots are my roots," he told ET. "It's a big part of my life, so I was very happy that that was shown."
Weber boasted about his mom's Cuban cooking during his time on The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, and his South and Central American travels on The Bachelor allowed him to showcase his Spanish speaking throughout the season.
Going forward, Lindsay hopes to see an even bigger embrace of diversity in the casting of the leads. "It's not about the cast, to me. You can continue to have a cast that is 'diverse,' and I'm using air quotes and I want to specify that I am, but it's about the leads at this point," the former Bachelorette told ET after the Women Tell All taping. "It's about who is making the decisions. We need to see diverse leads."
On Monday, Clare Crawley, a 38-year-old hairdresser from Sacramento, California, was announced as the next Bachelorette. Crawley, who is part Mexican, is the oldest Bachelorette ever cast. After overwhelming criticism about the young age of contestants on The Bachelor (Weber's final two women are both 23), it's perhaps a sign that the franchise is adapting to fan feedback.
While we wait to see the how The Bachelor franchise continues to evolve its casting around diversity -- and there’s no shortage of opportunity this year with more spin-off series than ever -- Lindsay hopes her Women Tell All segment has a "deeper" impact than the conversations created during Colton Underwood and Hannah Brown's seasons. She noted to ET that sex and religion are things "you have a choice about." Race is not.
"You can't change that. And it's not something that we want to change. It's who we are," she said.
"It's more of, 'Let's talk about something that people are afraid to talk about and that maybe makes you uncomfortable,'" she added. "But we're uncomfortable every day because we live it and we're attacked with it every day, every week, every month. And I think that's what's so beautiful -- that we're not pretending it's not an issue. We're addressing it head on."
Weber's season of The Bachelor concludes next Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.