The Bachelor franchise is synonymous with the name Chris Harrison, who’s hosted both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette since their premieres in 2002 and 2003, respectively, plus the spin-off Bachelor in Paradise. But Harrison recently announced he’s “stepping back” from the program. Here’s what’s going on:
First, some context.
If you’re not an avid Bachelor watcher, you might not know the current franchise lead, Matt James, is the first Black Bachelor in the show’s history. ABC announced this news in summer 2020, as Black Lives Matters protests erupted all over the country and the show came under fire for its lack of diversity. Because of James’s unique position, people were especially attuned to possible racial biases among the contestants.
Which leads us to Rachael Kirkconnell…
Rachael K., one of the women vying for James’s heart, attended an “Old South” party with her sorority when she was in college. Fans were quick to point out this was, at the least, an error in judgment on Kirkconnell’s part. Participating in an event like that is insensitive and, to many, offensive.
Harrison’s response to the story
As backlash grew, Harrison went on Extra to address the story, appearing (virtually) with Rachel Lindsay, who broke barriers on the show as the first Black Bachelorette in 2017. “These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time; they were 18 years old. Now, does that make it okay? I don’t know, Rachel, you tell me,” Harrison said. “Were we all looking through [that lens] in 2018?”
Harrison added, “This judge, jury, executioner thing where people are just tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into her parents, her parents’ voting record…. Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this? I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago, and that’s it.”
In a statement posted to their Instagram pages, many of the current contestants on The Bachelor voiced their support for Rachel Lindsay, whom they felt Harrison talked over in the Extra segment, and collectively denounced racism and any defense of it. Lindsay responded, saying the message “[meant] everything” to her.
Kirkconnell and Harrison both apologized.
Pretty much immediately after, both main players in this story posted apologies online. Kirkconnell took responsibility for her mistake and promised to earn forgiveness through future actions, not just by saying sorry now. She also reposed the statement in support of Lindsay.
Harrison wrote in his own statement, “What…I have done is cause harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism, and for that I am so deeply sorry. I also apologize to my friend Rachel Lindsay for not listening to her better on a topic she has firsthand understanding of.”
It’s unclear for how long, but we know for sure Harrison won’t be hosting this year’s “After the Final Rose” special.
Rachel Lindsay called Chris Harrison’s leave of absence the right move.
“Like he said, he needs to take time to get educated and on a profound and productive level to use his word,” she told Extra, per People. “And I think he needs to understand what was done, what was wrong, and what he said in that interview, and he needs time. He’s stepped away to do that.”
She continued, “I think [the interview] was a moment for people to recognize what was being said and to learn and grow from it, which is what we’re seeing happen now with Chris.”
Tayshia Adams agreed this is a good step for Harrison.
On the February 18 episode of the Click Bait With Bachelor Nation podcast, Adams, the second Black female lead in franchise history, praised Harrison’s decision and his words.
“I think after reading his apology…it hit my heart a little bit more to know he actually meant what he was saying,” she said, per People. “He said, ‘By excusing historical racism, I defended it,’ which is the absolute truth, and the fact that he called that out and owned up to that and he acknowledges that means a lot to me…. Also the fact that he said, ‘This is not just a moment but a commitment to much greater understanding that I will actively make each day’ also meant a lot to me, because it isn’t just a moment, just like how Blacks Lives Matter isn’t just a trending topic on Instagram.”
She continued, “I think that by him taking ownership, and just not just saying issue an apology and then just going back to work the next day like nothing happened speaks volumes on his behalf.”
Matt James has commented on the situation.
Read his statement in full, below.
This post will be updated as the situation evolves.