Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Chris Harrison as this season’s bachelor. It has now been revised to reflect Harrison as the host who introduced the women of the show.
It’s Season 24 of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” which entails the usual drama and intense engagement from the show’s loyal fans. Now with the introduction of two Vietnamese-American contestants, the show opens up new conversations of race and diversity on reality TV.
Unfortunately, the racism towards the two women on social media is reflective of the show’s portrayal of them as representatives of an “exotic” Vietnamese culture and the American dream.
From their first introductions, both Jasmine Nguyen and Tammy Ly are introduced as women who embody the American dream while also serving as a fresh kind of diversity in the world of “The Bachelor.” Although these characterizations seem benevolent, they are just one side of the same coin that justifies the racism against these Asian-American women.
“I like her a lot! Spicy Vietnamese,” said Chris Harrison, as he introduced Nguyen. Notably, the other contestants in her cohort are predominantly white. While they were characterized by their careers and interests, Nguyen’s ethnicity seemed to be sufficient to make her interesting for the audience. This characterization based solely on her ethnicity completely disregarded the other aspects of her identity.
“Pretty amazing woman. She might be my favorite story of the year … She is more of a symbol of the American dream than anybody I know or anyone who has been on the show,” Harrison said as he began describing Ly as a hardworking woman because of her family’s experience as refugees during the Vietnam War.
Although there may have been no ill intentions in Harrison’s comments, the descriptions reflect a problematic discourse that exoticizes Asian-American women while also needlessly lifting them up as model minorities.
The model minority myth is a narrative that characterizes Asian-Americans as intelligent, polite and socioeconomically successful due to their immigrant background and culture. Although this seems like a positive characterization, the consequences are severe. This myth was created by white communities to set Asian-Americans against other minorities, as if telling other minorities that if they can do it, so can they. The myth erases the diversity in experiences of Asian-Americans, characterizes them as perpetual foreigners in a white society and eliminates the realities of racism in Asian American history.
In recent seasons, Asian-American contestants were given no screen time and barely made it past Week 1. Ly had pushed that boundary with her bold personality and humor, making her a fan favorite that made it to Week 6. However, with the drama that ensued amongst the women in the group, Ly faces aggressive racism in the comments of her Instagram posts shortly after the release of these episodes.
Comments such as “You need to go back to work at your moms nail salon Tammy,” and “I hope u get the Corona virus when u go back home” show a similar thread that connects the seemingly positive model minority myth to blatant racism. These comments all condense Ly into a one-dimensional Asian character. Her experience as a Vietnamese-American woman does not necessarily entail her connection to the nail salon industry, or even more ridiculously, to being from China.
Another comment, “Shut up you’re Asian,” suggests that as a person of Asian descent, Ly does not have the right to even speak. This coincides well with the law-abiding, polite and silent characteristics of the model minority. This kind of behavior is unacceptable, malevolent and revealing of the racist ideologies that continue to influence American society.
By anchoring onto the myth of the model minority, these people convince themselves that Asian-Americans are not human, or worthy of their respect.
Although Nguyen is not facing racism on the level that Ly is, there are comments characterizing her as the “good Asian” who should replace Ly on the show.
“You should’ve stayed. Not Tammy. Ur classy and a good asian represent,” commented one user under one of Nguyen’s Instagram posts. This extension of the model minority myth is appalling to even suggest that if the audiences’ expectation of an Asian contestant is unfavorable, then they should not be tolerated. This kind of treatment on the basis of race is never extended to the white contestants, so why should it happen to the Vietnamese-American contestants, or any contestant of color?
Although seeing this kind of behavior is disheartening, the lesson on how to combat these indecent acts is clear. People of all backgrounds should not give into stereotypes created by white communities to erase their humanity and complexity. Individuals should not allow racism to silence them.
Vian Nguyen is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.