America was ready for a black president before it was ready for a black Bachelor or Bachelorette. Such are the strange realities behind so-called reality TV. In a combined 31 seasons on ABC, neither The Bachelor nor The Bachlorette has ever had an African-American as its central star, though both series have included black contestants.

Fusion’s Molly Fitzpatrick recently tracked down 10 of these Bachelor/Bachelorette veterans to find out what their experience on the dating show was like. [Note: Fusion, like The A.V. Club, is owned by Univision Communications.] Understandably, their mileage varies. Several have warm memories of the shows’ producers and speak about them in glowing, nostalgic terms. Others felt manipulated. All have given some thought to the issue of tokenism, though some didn’t even think about it until after they were done filming and began reading internet comments at home. The drama on the show, they all agree, is quite real. In fact, some of the horror stories involving race come from the interaction between contestants. One woman says she was “aghast” when a competitor asked, “Do you know who your dad is?”

The harshest words in the article come from Lindsay Smith, who participated in The Bachelor’s tenth season in 2007. In her estimation, the producers lied to her about being the season’s only black contestant and manipulated her into playing the role of the “crazy black girl” for the sake of the cameras. Her memories of the experience are bitter:

I can’t and wouldn’t want to speak for all the black and mixed women who have appeared on The Bachelor. But does anyone ever actually expect the black girl to win? I doubt it. Our sole purpose is for entertainment. If I ever come across any black women thinking about trying out for The Bachelor, I would strongly urge them to reconsider. In fact, I’d urge all women to strongly reconsider. This is not a show any women should participate in or watch. It’s like using Safelite to fill in those cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling.

Overall, it seems like SNL’s Bachelor parodies, in which Sasheer Zamata openly acknowledges that she doesn’t have a chance of winning, hit fairly close to the truth.

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