The Bachelor might still be pretending that the uproar surrounding this season’s frontrunner, Rachael Kirkconnell, and host Chris Harrison off-screen doesn’t exist—but Matt James, this season’s lead and the franchise’s first Black Bachelor, has spoken out.
Monday’s episode continued the pattern set by weeks past, ignoring the backlash that ensued after fans discovered images of Kirkconnell attending an Antebellum South-themed party, wearing offensive Halloween costumes, and “liking” social media posts including MAGA hats and Confederate flags. There was also no mention of Chris Harrison announcing he would not be a part of the season’s “After the Final Rose” reunion after fans called him out for defending Kirkconnell’s actions during a conversation with Rachel Lindsay on Extra, in which Harrison ignored and talked over Lindsay as he called for “grace” toward Kirkconnell. (Since that interview, Lindsay has announced plans to step away from The Bachelor once her contract with the franchise ends.)
But hours before ABC would air its deceptively benign Hometown Date episode, Matt James issued a statement on Instagram. Following Lindsay’s lead—as well as all of his contestants who issued a joint statement renouncing racism on the same day that Kirkconnell issued an apology—James spoke out on the franchise’s failings on race.
“The past few weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life,” James wrote in a statement posted on Instagram that called the images of Kirkconnell “incredibly disappointing.”
“The reality is that I’m learning about these situations in real time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly,” James wrote. He added that he’s now re-evaluating and processing “what my experience on The Bachelor represents, not just for me, but for all of the contestants of color, especially the Black contestants of this season and seasons past, and for you, the viewers at home.”
“Chris’s failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand intimately, was troubling and painful to watch,” James wrote. “As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years.”
“As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years.”
Longtime fans of The Bachelor know better than anyone how spotty its history with race has been. One Black Bachelor was never going to right the show’s past, including recent incidents in which other contestants with troubling social media histories somehow managed to slip through the show’s screening process. (Another time this happened? During Lindsay’s season as the first Black Bachelorette, when she had to deal with a contestant who once compared the NAACP to the KKK.)
But the Kirkconnell controversy appears to have become something of a historic breaking point for members of Bachelor Nation who are tired of watching the powers that be let these issues slide. After Chris Harrison’s train wreck of an interview with Rachel Lindsay, James’ cast united to release a statement renouncing not just racism, but defenses of racism—a pointed reference, it seemed, to Harrison’s interview. Soon after, the men that competed for Clare Crawley and Tayshia Adams’ hearts on The Bachelorette followed suit.
Perhaps most importantly, Chris Harrison has stepped away from the show—a move that, even if temporary, is certainly unprecedented during his run as Bachelor Love Guru. “The historic season of The Bachelor should 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 dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before.”
But you wouldn’t know any of this had happened from watching the show, which this week debuted a perfectly ordinary week of “Hometown” dates set within the show’s COVID bubble at a Pennsylvania resort.
Rachael’s hometown date would have felt perfectly ordinary, if uncomfortable, were it not for rumors that have circulated about her parents’ voting and political donation records. For a viewer who knows nothing about the discussions that have swirled around Kirkconnell and her family for weeks, her father saying “We just want to make sure you’re being respected,” or her mother asking, “You haven’t seen one bad thing?” seems par for the course. For a viewer who knows more, the exchanges might land a little differently.
Next week’s “Women Tell All” reunion, which was shot before Harrison stepped aside, won’t do much to resolve anything, either. It’s unclear how The Bachelor will handle a Harrison-less “After the Final Rose. (A source tells Us that Lindsay is considering hosting, but take that with the usual grain of salt.) That decision will be the first of many fans will be watching as Bachelor Nation charts its path forward. As James put it, “My greatest prayer is that this is an inflection point that results in real and institutional change for the better.”