Debriefing ‘The Bachelor’’s and Kirkconnell’s Racism Controversy

A Historic Season Tainted

“The Bachelor'' has come under fire for its predominantly white casting, but in this season, the producers intended to change that by casting Matt James as the show’s first Black Bachelor and along with their most diverse group of contestants yet. But instead of this season being remembered for its diversity and inclusivity, it has been marred by contestant Rachael Kirkconnell’s racist actions and host Chris Harrison’s defense of Kirkconnell.

Kirkconnell’s Racist Past

Relics of Kirkconnell’s racist past emerged online in early February, including her interactions with racist social media posts, a TikTok video alleging she bullied a former classmate for liking Black men, Instagram photos in a culturally appropriated Halloween costume, and—deemed most egregious—pictures of her attending an Old South-themed fraternity party.  

This party was held in 2018, despite being banned by the hosting fraternity’s national chapter in 2016 for the theme’s racist roots. Read more about Kappa Alpha’s decision to ban the theme here.

Along with her actions, fans have also uncovered disturbing information about Kirkconnell’s hometown. Kirkconnell grew up in Forsyth County, Georgia, home to a racial cleansing that expelled over 1000 Black residents in 1912, which resulted in no Black people living in Forsyth County for a span of 75 years. NPR delves into the racial cleansing Forsyth County back in 2017 in this podcast episode, further detailing this event and its impact. Today, only 4% of Forsyth County’s population is Black, and many Bachelor fans find it hard to believe that growing up in Forsyth played no part in Kirkconnell’s racist actions.

Harrison Tries to Excuse Kirkconnell

With social media posts that expose Kirkconnell gaining more and more attention, Chris Harrison addressed the controversy on Extra with the first Black Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay. 

Harrison attempted to diminish the severity of Kirkconnell's actions using age and social norms as excuses, saying that “girls will be girls” and that an Old South party was “the type of party people went to” in 2018. 

Looking for confirmation, Harrison asked Lindsay, “Is it [not] a good look in 2018? Or is it not a good look in 2021?”, to which Lindsay asked Harrison what she, a Black woman, would represent at that party. 

Ignoring Lindsay’s response and obvious discomfort, Harrison continued his defense of Kirkconnell, harping on the harshness of the Internet's cancel culture, “the woke police is out there and this poor girl Rachael has just been thrown to the lions.” 

Apologies and Accountability 

One day after his interview with Lindsay, Harrison apologized via social media, saying that he “took a stance on topics on which [he] was uninformed” and that he intended “to ask for grace” for Kirkconnell. Many fans were outraged at Harrison’s lackluster apology, contestant Pieper James tweeting “Black women in this franchise must always be hyperaware of our ‘grace’ because no one is extending it to us.” Three days following his apology, Harrison announced that he would be temporarily stepping down from his role as host.

Kirkconnell released an apology of her own, claiming that she has recognized her hateful actions and promises to “work for forgiveness”. There is speculation that Kirkconnell had been wanting to release an apology for some time but was not allowed to by production. 

 

The women of Season 25, and contestants of other past seasons also released statements, denouncing “any defense of racism” and commending Rachel Lindsay for her role in advocating for BIPOC within “The Bachelor” franchise. 

 

Matt James echoed the sentiments of this season’s contestants on his Instagram story, specifically thanking Lindsay via Instagram for her mentorship and writing that Lindsay’s “advocacy of BIPOC people in the franchise is invaluable.” 

Lindsay’s Response

In a recent episode on her podcast “Higher Learning,” Lindsay spoke with co-host Van Lathan about how she’s having a hard time accepting Harrison’s apology and expressing her frustration with “The Bachelor” franchise. Making headway as the first Black Bachelorette and even threatening to leave if production didn’t cast Black contestants, Lindsay has fought hard for change, only to be met with more racism. "I’m contractually bound in some ways," Lindsay said. "But when it’s up, I am too. I can’t do it anymore." 

“The Bachelor” ‘s Response (or Lack thereof)

The show did not address the controversy in their most recent episode or on any of their social media platforms, and the silence is deafening. Mike Johnson of “The Bachelorette” Season 15 spoke with Lindsay on Extra, saying that he feels like “The Bachelor” doesn’t “have the right words to say,”, but “at times we don’t ask for you to have the right words, just to speak.”

Johnson commended the women of Season 25 for speaking out despite being under contract, saying that their words “show that this is more important than anything else.” He went on to say that “cancelling people is too easy” and that people need to be held accountable instead of privately “riding away with their millions of dollars.” Johnson also noted the power in privilege, stating that “people will listen to you” and “give you the benefit of the doubt,” and he called for Harrison and Kirkconnell to be removed from the franchise, but to utilize their platform and privilege to educate their audience. 

What Happens Now?

Sadly, Kirkconnell’s and Harrison’s racism is only the tip of the iceberg. From predominantly white casts to racist contestants, racism deeply plagues every part of the Bachelor franchise. With calls from contestants, commentators, and Bachelor Nation to make systematic changes, one can only hope that the franchise chooses to listen, re-evaluate, and improve their practices.

 

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