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“The Bachelor” and Why White People Should Be Held Accountable For Racism

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

Everyone who watches “The Bachelor” is aware of the recent scandal involving one of the contestants and the host, Chris Harrison. For those who are not fans of the show, here’s a rundown. Photos recently surfaced online showing one of “The Bachelor” contestants, Rachel Kirkconnell, at an antebellum-themed fraternity party. The pictures are from 2018, when Kirkconnell attended Georgia College and State University. As Kirkconnell faced backlash, “The Bachelor’s” host, Chris Harrison, came forward to defend Kirkconnell.

He stated that “the woke police” was attacking Kirkconnell and that she had been “thrown to the lions.” He argued that at the time she attended the party, this would not have been considered socially unacceptable. Harrison later apologized for his comments, calling them harmful and perpetuating racism. He has since stepped down as host of “The Bachelor.” Kirkconnell also apologized for her actions and claimed not to have realized at the time that her actions were offensive and racist. 

The actions of both Harrison and Kirkconnell have sparked widespread debate. Viewers wonder if their apologies are truly sincere or simply a result of media pressure. Also called into question is Harrison’s defense of Kirkconnell. It is also notable to point out that this season is significant for featuring the first Black Bachelor, Matt James. His casting was a result of criticism of the show for not casting diverse leads. Kirkconnell is a frontrunner on the show, and it is speculated that she could win.

A major takeaway that I got from this scandal is Kirkconnell’s reasoning behind her actions. Perhaps it is possible that she was unaware of the racism behind an Antebellum-themed party. The party took place in Georgia, which is a Deep South state with a dark history involving slavery and racism. A lot of the culture in the south is built on racism. However, is that a valid excuse? In the year 2018, is it justifiable to be ignorant, as Harrison claimed? 

ABC/Craig Sjodin

When trying to find the answer to this question, it is important to think about southern culture. Georgia was a slave state and later participated in enforcing Jim Crow laws. There are remnants of slavery everywhere, from Confederate statues to plantation houses as tourist destinations. In my opinion, the extreme horrors of slavery are not properly emphasized in school and are even swept under the rug. The college where Kirkconnell attended the party is predominantly white, with College Factual reporting that the current student body is 84 percent white. It is also easy to not understand the wrongness of a situation when everyone is participating. Kirkconnell was not the only person at that party, and clearly, nobody else at the party had a problem with the theming. Perhaps Kirkconnell was unaware of the racism behind her actions because she lived in an environment where these actions were considered acceptable. Perhaps she was uneducated in the matter of racism.

And yet, her actions were still inexcusable.

In the year 2018, there is no excuse to be racist. There is also no excuse to defend or ignore racism in 2021. We live in a world where information is so accessible; the Internet is literally an endless source of information. If someone is uneducated on matters of racism, it is absolutely their choice to be so. Growing up in an environment that ignores or even participates in racism is not an excuse.

Kirkconnell also attended this party during the time of the Black Lives Matter movement and Donald Trump’s presidency. Racism was and is a trending topic and one that was very prominent in all aspects of life. People were actively protesting against racism and spreading information on social media. This also disproves that Harrison’s belief that racism was socially acceptable at the time. People did recognize that racism was a problem and were actively fighting against it. Rather than be one of those people, Kirkconnell instead chose to attend a racist party.

It is the responsibility of all people, especially white people, to educate themselves on matters of racism. It is their responsibility to listen to the opinions of Black people about what is offensive and then respect that. It is not up to white people like Chris Harrison or Rachel Kirkconnell to decide that their actions were not racist. And they should absolutely not be making excuses for this behavior.

bundle of roses
Pexels / picjumbo.com

This learning can be done in so many ways, through reading, conversation or just listening to what others have to say. There are an abundance of resources and so many people who are willing to teach. All that you have to do is make the decision to learn and listen. However, by refusing to learn and refusing to listen, you are participating in the system of racism that has existed for this country’s entire existence, and you are allowing it to continue. That in itself is racist. If you deny your responsibility to do better, then you simply are racist.

Chris Harrison was wrong in saying that Rachel Kirkconnell was being unfairly called out. By holding Kirkconnell accountable for her actions, it sets a standard that this behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated. He was also wrong in defending Kirkconnell instead of listening to the opinions of Black people. Harrison has a large platform; what he should have done instead of offering his own opinion is give attention to the opinions of Black people. He also should have educated himself on the racism behind celebrating the Antebellum era before speaking out. The criticism of Harrison is absolutely justified, as is his step-down as host of “The Bachelor.” If the show is as dedicated to diversity and acceptance as it claims, then there is no place for a host that defends blatant racism. 

Kirkconnell’s actions were racist. She deserves to face the consequences of her actions. Unfortunately, she cannot take back what she did. What she can do is offer a sincere apology and make a conscious effort to educate herself so that she will not do this again. She should also use her newfound fame to raise awareness of how rampant racism continues to be in the United States. She should also offer her platform to Black activists and educators. Her efforts can help prevent the next generation from believing that things like Antebellum-themed parties are acceptable. She has a responsibility as a white woman to not be racist and to teach others to be better as well.

White people should always be held accountable for racism. It is unacceptable to be racist now or ever. We have a responsibility to treat others with equality and respect and also a responsibility to teach others. Listen to Black voices and make a conscious effort to do better.

Mackenzie is a VCU student studying Mass Communications and Fashion Merchandising. She loves all things fashion, watching reality TV, and her two cats.
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