by Tori Newby ‘22
The popular reality dating show “The Bachelor” is an outrageous concept; viewers witness one man date thirty women until he narrows it down to one proposal. However, even more surprising is the recent scandal involving contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, winner of Matt James’ season of “The Bachelor.”
A photo emerged of Kirkconnell at an antebellum-themed fraternity party in 2018, where she donned a plantation-style dress and took a selfie with her friends. The Kappa Alpha fraternity board banned this “Old South” themed party in 2016. In addition to the racially insensitive photo, Kirkconnell “liked” several racist posts on Instagram, including one picturing a Confederate flag. Allegations have also emerged that she bullied people in high school and college for being attracted to Black men. Ironically, this season’s Bachelor, Matt James, is Black.
Before Kirkconnell publicly addressed the controversies, “The Bachelor” host and executive producer Chris Harrison spoke out first. Harrison was invited by Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette in 2017, to do an interview on her talk show on February 9. In the interview, Harrison defended Kirkconnell and claimed that the incident of the party photo was three years ago and therefore less significant. He continually referred to the “woke police” and how the public is too quick to judge someone for their actions. Lindsay commented that Kirkconnel had six weeks to own up to her mistakes, but Harrison responded, “Who is Rachel Lindsay, and who is Chris Harrison, and who is whatever woke police-person out there, who are you [to tell her to speak out]?”
Throughout the interview, Harrison interrupted Lindsay frequently and failed to acknowledge her viewpoint on the situation. Lindsay attempted to reason with and be respectful of Harrison, but he did not return the favor. The way Harrison spoke at the interview perpetuated racism, and although he issued a public apology via Instagram days later, his handling of the situation was completely unacceptable. Kirkconnell has since said that her actions should not have been defended.
Harrison also commented that the pressure to speak out and take the blame should not be on “The Bachelor” franchise. However, that is just the problem. Why shouldn’t the pressure be on the franchise? Although Kirkconnell should have taken responsibility for her actions before anyone else, how did she make it onto the show in the first place?
With thousands of applicants each season and a paid private investigator, Kirkconnell should not have even made it to the spotlight. During the show’s audition process, contestants must meet with the private investigator so they can get ahead of any possible scandals or tabloid stories. Kirkconnell’s photo was evidently not hard to find, and while it is imperative that she is held accountable, it is also the franchise’s fault for either not looking hard enough to find her history of racially insensitive actions or for not viewing the circumstance as a serious issue.
All across the board, “The Bachelor” is not known for promoting diversity and inclusivity. Most leads (Bachelors and Bachelorettes), as well as contestants, are white. Tayshia Adams on season 16 of The Bachelorette was only the second Black female lead, and season 25’s Matt James was the first Black male lead.
Harrison is the face of “The Bachelor” franchise and evidently handled Kirkconnell’s situation very poorly. As a white man who represents a show with little diversity, it is time for a new host to take over. It is presumed that ABC forced Harrison to take a “temporary leave of absence” from the show: Harrison did not host the final episode of season 25, and the next season of “The Bachelorette” will feature Adams as one of two new hosts.
Harrison has not announced plans to return to the show, and many Bachelor viewers hope he never does, as this leave of absence should not be temporary. Although Harrison has since apologized for his actions and the way he spoke at Lindsay’s interview, a national platform is no longer a position he deserves to have. Harrison has the opportunity and resources to learn and grow from his actions, but returning to a well-known platform within the Hollywood world is a bad look for “The Bachelor” franchise, which already must undergo serious changes to promote diversity and inclusivity in their episodes.
Also in “Canceled” Special Report:
Dangerous Ideas on College Campuses by Seth Kauffman ’21
Deplatform the Villains by Lexi Kimmel ’21
What Does a Word Mean When Used Differently by Everyone? by Graham Skinker ’21
Struggle for Consistency in Sports by Colin Horan ’21
The Problem with Painting Influencers with a Broad Brush by Avery Prudenti ’22