How “Bachelor in Paradise” can inform social workers about practice with young Black men
You may be asking what a pulpy reality television show about finding a partner could possibly have to contribute to informing social work practice? This season, the “Bachelor” franchise has taken on the topic of race relations in a fairly head-on fashion for mainstream television. For years, the series has been (aptly) criticized for featuring primarily White contestants. After a season in which a Black woman was cast for the first time as the “Bachelorette,” the franchise’s summer follow-up series, “Bachelor in Paradise,” included several Black men and women in search of love. But let’s hone in on the story one man in particular, Demario Jackson.
Mr. Jackson, a Black man, joined the Mexico-based “Bachelor in Paradise” cast in hopes of finding a partner. As the television show is knownfor its sexual antics and hookup culture, it was no surprise when Mr. Jackson quickly became involved with Corinne Olympios, a White woman. The two met, flirted and over the course of a day of drinking, became sexually intimate. All of this took place in public, with cameras rolling and with cast-mates walking by from time to time. The day after this incident, producers stopped the show as a third party had filed a complaint about Mr. Jackson’s behavior with Ms. Olympios vis-à-vis alcohol consumption and consent to sexual activities. Ms. Olympios claimed that she did not remember any of the night due to her heavy drinking, but later, for a time, claimed that she was a victim of sexual assault (and had to endure the pain of “slut shaming” as well). Of the event, Mr. Jackson has stated “It was 100-percent consensual. She hopped in my arms, she pulled me into the pool…I think people wanted it to be something different. They wanted the angry Black guy and this little, innocent White girl. But it wasn’t.”
In the end, an external investigation (paid for by Warner Brothers) determined that no wrongdoing took place, and Mr. Jackson’s name was cleared. Unfortunately, this did not occur before the press reported on the incident in some very racially charged and unfair ways – but ways that are not unfamiliar to the Black community. So egregious was the coverage, that at least two of the White female contestants from “Bachelor in Paradise” decided to step up and defend Mr. Jackson’s honor, a refreshing change.
One of the silver linings of Mr. Jackson’s suffering is that our society has the opportunity to revisit longstanding stereotypes about the aggressiveness and/or sexuality of young Black men, especially as it relates to White women. Social workers need to know that our country has a long and shameful history of portraying young Black men as sexual predators and/or perpetrators. Starting in the late 1900s, our country saw a rise racial tension that correlated with the number of lynchings of Black men. In fact, between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 reported lynchings, 72.7 percent of which involved Black men. It is widely understood that these race-based lynchings were instigated by White people who felt the need to protect White women from Black men. This presumption has followed us to the present day, where many people believe that Black men rape White women more than White men do, something that has been shown to be false.
We must remember that the young Black men that we work with as social workers live with the spectre of history, and are often warned about interacting with White women during “the talk” with their parents. That is, the talk about what it is to live as a young Black man in the United States in an age where racism is alive and well. Perhaps a father would tell the tale of Florida’s Rosewood massacre, in which many Black men died as a result of a White woman claiming that a Black man had assaulted her. Or perhaps a Black father may tell his son the story of 14 year-old Emmett Till, a young Black man accused of whistling at and making physical advances to a White woman in a candy store. Mr. Till was murdered as a result of his alleged actions – even though decades later, his accuser has admitted to making up the most damning part of her court testimony. The media treatment of DeMario Jackson felt no different to me than what Emmett Till faced.
So, how can we act on this as social workers in practice with young Black men? As a profession, we are tasked with seeking social justice, but in the case of young Black men, we must also look inside ourselves for ways to promote racial justice. Social workers must challenge themselves to be aware of damaging stereotypes that may be held about their young Black clients. As a profession committed to reflective practice, we must be on the lookout for these stereotypes within ourselves as well as among others involved with the clients we work with. We must work to prevent such stereotypes from impacting the lives of the young Black men in schools, universities, community organizations and both the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
We need to do this anti-racism work as the social work profession has been accused of failing Black men many times before. For example, Dr. Waldo Johnson, Jr. addresses this failure in his book Social work with African American males: Health, mental health and social policy. In this text, Dr. Johnson talks about how Black men suffer from being stereotyped as reckless (at best) and characterized as having a lifelong disregard for or commitment to society in general. While most Black men do not fit into this stereotype, it persists nonetheless, often as a result of media images.
In the post-Charlottesville era, it is vital for social workers – especially White social workers – to take a stand against the stereotyping of young Black men. This is especially important work to engage in given what we know about how White social workers may hold negative racial biases as a result of living in a society defined by White supremacy. It is time to stand up for racial justice in all of the settings we work in, let’s let DeMario Jackson’s ordeal make a difference for young Black men in the United States.