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The Hidden Strain of Being an Interracial Couple on Reality TV

8 14 21

Lauren and Cameron, Love Is Blind’s breakout stars, have succeeded not because of the show but in spite of it.

In the first season of Netflix’s hit reality show Love Is Blind, Lauren Speed visits the Atlanta home of her new fiancé, Cameron Hamilton. The house is airy and bright, and Lauren and Cameron, fingers laced, wander the rooms imagining the life they might have there together. But behind the scenes, that day was less dreamy than it looked.

A producer urged Lauren to peek inside Cameron’s fridge and pantry so the crew could film her commenting on what she saw inside. They seemed particularly eager for her to note a few specific items: watermelon, collard greens, and Kool-Aid. “They didn’t want to let up,” Cameron told me. “I was frustrated because these are basic items, and why even perpetuate these notions?” This wasn’t the first time the show had tried to gin up racial tension. During the couple’s onscreen courtship, Lauren told me, producers “really, really pressed down hard on the fact that You’re a Black woman from Detroit; he’s a white man from Maine—talk about it, talk about it, talk about it.”

Love Is Blind, which premiered in February 2020 and will air its third season later this year, presents itself as both comfortably familiar reality fare and a radical treatise on the barriers to love in a screen-mediated, swipe-happy dating world. Single men and women occupy separate pods and converse through an opaque, glowing wall: the show’s test of whether two people can fall for each other without the interference of superficial factors. After 10 days, they must decide whether to part ways or get married. Only then are the newly engaged couples allowed to meet face-to-face, before enduring some rapid-fire bonding rituals: a beach vacation, tours of their homes, a round of meet-the-parents—all in preparation for their wedding, scheduled for four weeks later.

This formula has certainly worked at attracting viewers. According to Netflix, the show had reached 30 million households by April 2020. Season 2, which aired this past February, was a similar phenomenon, making the list of Netflix’s most-watched series during each week of the show’s staggered release. The series has already been renewed through Season 5.

Over the course of its first two seasons, Love Is Blind has proved adept at producing couples that last long after filming wraps, however improbably. Season 1 featured the volatile twosome Amber Pike and Matt Barnett, who spent much of their screen time squabbling jealously but somehow remain wed. Season 2 supplied a memorable villain in Abhishek “Shake” Chatterjee, who complained to everyone within earshot about his lack of attraction to Deepti Vempati, but it also had Jarrette Jones and Iyanna McNeely—who seemed doomed by Jarrette’s immaturity but are still married too. And yet despite this track record, there’s no potential obstacle to love that the show appears to relish more than race.

When I watched Lauren and Cameron’s season back in 2020, I remember feeling at once compelled and baffled by the show’s treatment of their dynamic. The series swung between sensationalizing the fact of their racial difference and pretending that it didn’t matter at all. In some moments, like when Lauren said “I would have never met a man like Cameron without this experiment,” their relationship was heralded as a shining example of the “blind” approach to dating in action. In others, the show seemed eager to present their dissimilar cultural backgrounds as a potentially impossible hurdle for the couple to clear. That felt to me like a stretch, even by the standards of reality TV. Still, I found myself struck by just how unusual it was to see a Black woman on reality television who seemed to be fully herself experiencing that kind of steadfast commitment, that kind of unwavering love.

Lauren Speed-Hamilton and Cameron Hamilton, now married and living in Atlanta, have been the show’s breakout stars. Fans marveled at their onscreen chemistry and furiously scoured the internet to find out whether they were still together. Lauren has 2.5 million followers on Instagram, more than most leading ladies of the Bachelor franchise. The Hamiltons are the most prominent Black-and-white interracial couple to ever emerge from a reality dating series. The scarcity of relationships like theirs is in part a reflection of the bleak way reality television has historically portrayed Black women as romantic prospects. And so I wondered how they got here: what it was like for them to navigate the show’s pressures and their post-series fame—and why it took so long for a genre obsessed with fairy-tale love to give us a story like theirs.

The template of the contemporary reality dating show was established by The Bachelor, and from the very beginning, the franchise refused to take Black women seriously as potential matches for its white male leads. In its 2002 pilot season, only one Black woman........

© The Atlantic

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