Chris Harrison, host of ABC’s The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, is officially stepping aside indefinitely after receiving widespread backlash for defending the racist actions of this season’s frontrunner, Rachael Kirkconnell.
Pictures of Kirkconnell at an Antebellum South plantation-themed ball from 2018 resurfaced during the airing of the first Black Bachelor, Matt James’ season.
In addition to her attendance at this party, images of Kirkconnell wearing several other racist costumes, including dressed as caricatures of Mexican and Native cultures have also come to light.
Kirkconnell was also accused of bullying on TikTok by a former peer named Maddie Bierster, who reacted to a scene with James and Kirkconnell at a cocktail party.
While the images and accusations alone were disturbing, things for Bachelor Nation reached a boiling point when Chris Harrison defended Kirkconnell’s actions in an interview with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, who is also the first Black Bachelorette in franchise history.
Harrison was scattered in his response, criticizing the alleged “woke-police” and woke culture, and even compared holding Kirkconnell accountable to erasing the history of Abraham Lincoln in San Francisco.
He argued that the parties that Kirkconnell attended in 2018 were socially acceptable then, and that the standard for political correctness that exists in 2021 simply did not exist three years ago.
“Is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021?” commented Harrison.
Rachel Lindsay responded saying, “it’s not a good look ever.”
“We’ve seen problematic contestants before affiliated with the franchise, Rachael’s not the first. So I think people have the question of ‘Will the franchise speak out? Will she come out and say something? And then you have the other level of [the fact that] she’s dating a Black man, that adds complexity to it,” she added.
It is not uncommon for problematic social media histories to resurface during a season of reality television, particularly in the Bachelor franchise.
Former Bachelorette Hannah Brown previously apologized after singing the N-word on Instagram live last summer, and just a few days ago, previous contestant Taylor Nolan has also apologized after racist, anti-Semitic and fatphobic tweets resurfaced.
One of the most memorable examples is Garrett Yrigoyen, winner of Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette. After winning his season, tweets and liked posts from Yrigoyen’s social media accounts came to light, including “offensive jokes about boys who wear makeup, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition and the Parkland shooting survivors amongst other topics.”
Yrigoyen apologized for the comments he made, and Kufrin stood by her fiance during the After the Final Rose segment. Ultimately, the couple parted ways a few months later.
Aside from the indiscretions of individual cast members, the franchise is also notorious for its lack of racial and cultural diversity in casting.
The Bachelor franchise has been almost exclusively white and upper-middle class throughout its history. With the exception of former Bachelor train-wreck Juan Pablo Galavis in 2014, all Bachelors and Bachelorettes have been white, until Rachel Lindsay’s season in 2017.
Following the events of 2020, it seemed as though the Bachelor franchise was looking to rebrand as more inclusive by casting Tayshia Adams as the second Black Bachelorette, and then Matt James, a newcomer to the franchise, as the first-ever Black Bachelor.
While some have been supportive of these actions, Mike Johnson, a fan-favourite and Bachelor hopeful from Hannah Brown’s season in 2019, discussed in his podcast how he found these actions to be “opportunistic” on production’s part, as a way for the franchise to profit off of good publicity.
Other previous contestants have also been vocal in their disdain for Kirkconnell, Harrison, and other contestants’ actions that have come into the public eye throughout the airing of Matt James’ season.
Notably, the women from this season released a joint statement condemning racism and expressing their solidarity with Rachel Lindsay, who has since deactivated her Instagram after receiving incessant death threats from Bachelor fans who support Kirkconnell.
Lindsay has been praised for demonstrating strength and grace, and time and time again has been a contestant who has advocated for racial justice on the show. But for Black women in the public eye, speaking truth to power comes at a great emotional cost, as they have to bear the brunt of thousands of racist and sexist comments in order to fight for change.
Kirkconnell herself has also spoken out, apologizing for her actions in both a written statement and in an IGTV video where she urges fans not to defend or justify her racist past, committing to do better in the future.
However, the franchise itself has yet to address the issue on air.
Each week, fans watch the prerecorded episodes with Harrison and Kirkconnell, wondering if a verbal statement will be made -- and it has yet to come.
This is not to say that a statement would rectify the issue at hand, but a key step to moving forward is to acknowledge on air the difficult conversations that Bachelor Nation is having right now, because most viewers will be reachable on Monday nights, while they are tuned in.
It was announced last Saturday that Chris Harrison will be replaced with former NFL player and sports analyst Emmanuel Acho to host the After the Final Rose segment.
Acho is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” and the host of a YouTube series by the same name.
Now for most of us, the Bachelor franchise isn’t where we go to engage in any type of critical discourse; it’s where we go to turn our minds off and indulge in something silly and romantic as a break from the stressors of everyday life. It is after all, reality television.
But what’s disappointing here is the amount of time it has taken for one of the highest grossing reality television franchises to even begin to address these issues.
With the amount of resources the Bachelor franchise has, there is simply no excuse for them to be doing the bare minimum. If any viewer can easily find a contestant’s problematic tweets from three years ago, the casting directors and producers should also be able to.
While one can hope that change is on the horizon for the franchise, viewers will have a better idea how this will be handled after the final rose is given out.
And while it’s clear that Chris Harrison is wrong about so many things this season, he has definitely been right about one thing: this really is the most dramatic season yet.
About the author: Jeevan Sangha is an aspiring journalist who loves writing silly little articles about pop-culture, media, politics and the South Asian experience while balancing a job in community-engaged learning