EXCLUSIVE: Meet 'Bachelorette' Scene Stealer Aunt Verna!
By Jennifer Drysdale
Amid the drama and the craziness of Monday night's episode of The Bachelorette, someone had to keep it 100 -- and this time, it wasn't Rachel Lindsay.
Lindsay visited Eric Bigger in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and while the experience definitely brought the two close together -- Bigger ended up earning a rose and making the final three -- it also brought Lindsay closer to his scene stealer of an aunt. During their one-on-one talk together, Aunt Verna wasn't afraid to ask Lindsay the hard questions, like what it was like to be the first black Bachelorette, which started an emotional, honest conversation about race both on and off screen.
ET caught up with Verna Myers, a Harvard-educated lawyer who has written books on diversity and is a cultural consultant with a TED Talk under her belt, over the phone on Tuesday. She opened up about America's reaction to her candid chat with Lindsay, and what she hopes happens next.
ET: You went viral after your appearance on last night's episode. What was your first reaction and how did you find out?
VM: It’s just a million texts and Twitter is blowing up. My main hope was that the family comes off looking great. It’s reality TV, so you don’t know. I’m like, "What did I say?" because I had not seen it. I knew the conversation I had, but I didn’t know what they were talking about.
People on social media are describing your conversation with Rachel as "productive," "keeping it real" and "adorable." How do you feel about these descriptions?
I’m very excited that I put the “real” in “reality show”. I was genuinely curious about how she was dealing with the fact that she’s "Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette”.
What have been some of your favorite reactions you’ve seen or heard?
What I thought was so funny was the whole, 'We love Aunt Verna" or "Aunt Verna is legit." Love and compassion, I strive for that. To know that I made an impact in such a short amount of time, those were my favorite ones. And my son called me and said, "Mom, 'Aunt Verna’ is trending. I’m not even lying right now." That was so sweet that somehow the country hears something real on a show that they’re hoping for realness on, and they warm up to the aunt so that she becomes everyone’s aunt. Suddenly I’m everyone’s Aunt Verna. I’m a TED speaker you know, I’m an author and it’s like, no, I’m Aunt Verna to the country.
Did you think you were asking such a groundbreaking question about being the first black Bachelorette so bluntly?
It would be impossible for me to not ask a question that’s so obviously a part of the show. Was I curious? Absolutely. I’m willing to ask the hard questions in a way that encourages people to share their truth. I feel like so far on every episode there has been a touch of it, but I felt no one was giving her that opportunity on the show to talk about what the impact of race was.
What most people wouldn’t know is that you are a Harvard-trained lawyer. You’ve written books on diversity and culture. Can you speak more about your career and what you do?
What was interesting for me was how many people on my Twitter feed who recognized me from my TED talk recognized me being on The Bachelorette. People recognized me from work. That was how it first got started. My company goes into work places in every industry trying to help leaders understand how to create inclusive, respectful work environments so that people of every background can come in and thrive.
You were so accepting of the reality show. Why did you agree to let cameras into your life for your nephew's hometown date?
Our family is really fun. We’re just fun, authentic people and I was happy to host it. The producers said Eric really wanted Rachel and I to meet because Rachel and I are both lawyers. We’re both professional black women.
What was your opinion of Rachel after meeting her?
They found this amazing smart, contagiously energetic lawyer who is beautiful. She is raising the standard.
What were your thoughts when you first found out Rachel would be the first black Bachelorette?
By the time I heard about it, my nephew already told me he was auditioning, and then I think I heard from him that she was the first black Bachelorette. Then I started looking at how it was being talked about. In some ways you’re thinking, “Really? How long has this show been out?” My second response was that this was going to be interesting. I think they worked hard to have a very heterogeneous group of non-white people, people from different classes and regions.
What do you hope people take away from your conversation they saw you have with Rachel?
Talking boldly opens up a conversation that brings us closer, not divides us. I think that people are so afraid of touching these issues that we spend our time in separate spaces. It’s not about necessarily agreeing with everything, but creating a space where you can at least understand and see a person as worthy of that same kind of respect that you ask them to show you.