The Bachelor could still claim that the outcry surrounding this season’s favorite Rachael Kirkconnell and off-screen host Chris Harrison doesn’t exist – but Matt James, this season’s frontman and the franchise’s first Black Bachelor, has gone pronounced.
Monday’s episode continued the pattern established by weeks past, ignoring the backlash that followed after fans discovered footage of Kirkconnell attending an Antebellum South themed party, wearing costumes from Halloween offensive and “loving” social media posts, including MAGA hats and Confederate flags. There was also no mention of Chris Harrison announcing that he would not be part of the ‘After the Final Rose’ season reunion after fans called him for defending Kirkconnell’s actions at a conversation with Rachel Lindsay on Additional, in which Harrison ignored and spoke of Lindsay as he called for “mercy” to Kirkconnell. (Since that interview, Lindsay has announced her intention to move away from The single person once their franchise contract ends.)
But hours before ABC aired its deceptively benign episode of Hometown Date, Matt James posted a statement on Instagram. Following Lindsay’s lead – as well as all of her competitors who issued a joint statement renouncing racism the same day Kirkconnell apologized – James has spoken out on the franchise’s failures in racing.
“The past few weeks have been some of the most difficult of my life,” James wrote in an Instagram statement that called Kirkconnell’s footage “incredibly disappointing.”
“The reality is I’m learning these situations in real time, and it’s been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly,” James wrote. He added that he is now reassessing and dealing with “what my experience on The single person represents, not only for me, but for all of the contestants of color, especially the black contestants of this season and past seasons, and for you, the viewers at home.
“Chris’ inability to receive and understand the emotional work my friend Lindsay was undertaking in gracefully and patiently explaining the racist story of Antebellum South, a painful story that all Americans should understand intimately, was unsettling and painful to watch. James wrote. “As Blacks and their allies immediately knew and understood, this was a clear reflection of a much larger problem that The Bachelor franchise has failed to adequately address for years.”
“As Blacks and their allies immediately knew and understood, this clearly reflected a much larger problem that The Bachelor franchise had failed to adequately address for years.“
Long-time fans of The single person know better than anyone how uneven his history with the breed has been. A black bachelor’s degree was never going to straighten out the show’s past, including recent incidents in which other contenders with troubling social media stories managed to squeeze through the show’s screening process. (Another time, this happened? During Lindsay’s season as the first black bachelorette, when she faced a contestant who once compared the NAACP to the KKK.)
But the Kirkconnell controversy appears to have become something of a historical breaking point for members of The Bachelor Nation who are tired of watching the powers that be let these questions slip away. After Chris Harrison’s shipwreck in an interview with Rachel Lindsay, James’ cast united to release a statement renouncing not only racism, but the defenses of racism – a pointed reference, it seems, to Harrison’s interview. Soon after, the men who competed for the hearts of Clare Crawley and Tayshia Adams on The bachelorette followed suit.
Perhaps more importantly, Chris Harrison has stepped away from the series – a move that, even temporary, is certainly unprecedented in his career as the Bachelor Love Guru. “The historic season of The Bachelor must not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions,” he wrote in a statement days after his initial response. “… I am determined to receive education on a deeper and more productive level than ever before.”
But you wouldn’t know any of that by watching the show, which debuted this week with a perfectly ordinary week of “Hometown” dates set in the show’s COVID bubble at a Pennsylvania resort.
Rachael’s hometown date would have seemed perfectly ordinary, even if she was uncomfortable, had it not been for the rumors that circulated about her parents’ votes and political donations. For a viewer who doesn’t know anything about the discussions that have revolved around Kirkconnell and his family for weeks, his father says “We just want to make sure you are respected”, or his mother asking, “You haven’t seen a bad thing? ”seems normal for the course. To a viewer who knows more, the exchanges might land a little differently.
Next week’s “Women Tell All” meeting, which was shot before Harrison stepped down, won’t do much to resolve anything either. We don’t know how The single person will run a Harrison-less “After the Final Rose.” (A source tells We that Lindsay plans to host, but take that with the usual two cents.) This decision will be the first for many fans to watch as Bachelor Nation makes its way. As James said, “My biggest prayer is that this be an inflection point that results in real and institutional change for the better.”
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