Once again, The Bachelor is trying to feel its way through a racism controversy—and this time, it’s not just a vexing contestant who’s landed in hot water, but host Chris Harrison as well.
On Wednesday, the Bachelor guru apologized for defending Rachael Kirkconnell after photos surfaced of the season frontrunner attending a plantation-themed party. Kirkconnell has already come under scrutiny for apparently “liking” racist social media posts, as well as resurfaced photos of her wearing a Native American Halloween costume. These posts are only more troubling given that she’s competing for the heart of Matt James, the franchise’s first Black Bachelor in nearly two decades on air.
During a recent conversation with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, on Extra, Harrison seemed bent on convincing the Bachelor alum that, really, fans have been too hard on Kirkconnell. After all, how could she have known that attending a plantation-themed party was racist all the way back in—[checks notes]—2018? Now, however, it appears he’s had a change of heart.
“To my Bachelor Nation family—I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology,” Harrison wrote on Instagram. “I have this incredible platform to speak about love, and yesterday I took a stance on topics about which I should have been better informed.”
“While I do not speak for Rachael Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf,” Harrison continued. “What I now realize 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 a first-hand understanding of, and humbly thank the members of Bachelor Nation who have reached out to me to hold me accountable. I promise to do better.”
During the Extra interview, which lasted around 14 minutes and remained friendly throughout, Harrison told Lindsay that when it comes to Kirkconnell, “We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion.” On multiple occasions, he expressed disdain for the so-called “woke police,” and lamented that people were trying to play “judge, jury, executioner.” He also appeared to downplay the issue of the plantation party, calling the snapshot “a picture of her at a sorority party 5 years ago.”
Replied Lindsay, “Well the picture was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party. So I think... that’s not a good look.”
“Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018?” Harrison said. “Or, is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference.”
“It’s not a good look ever,” Lindsay said. “Because she’s celebrating the Old South. If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?”
“You’re 100 percent right in 2021,” Harrison said. “That was not the case in 2018. And again, I’m not defending Rachael. I just know that, I don’t know, 50 million people did that in 2018. That was a type of party that a lot of people went to. And again, I’m not defending it. I didn’t go to it.”
At another point, Harrison wondered aloud, “Would this girl at, I don’t know how old she would have been back then, have thought, ‘You know, historically this mansion stood for this; guys, it’s really not woke that we’re here’? ... My guess? 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 OK? I don’t know, Rachel. You tell me.” He seemed to ignore the fact that Lindsay had, in fact, already told him.
As Lindsay pointed out, race discourse did not begin in 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement has been part of the public discourse since 2014, the same year Blake Lively landed in hot water over her lifestyle brand’s antebellum-inspired spread. For years, we’ve seen an ongoing discourse surrounding what to do about Confederate monuments. And although U.S. history classes certainly gloss over a lot, it seems hard to believe Kirkconnell could get to where she is without ever learning about slavery and plantations. It’s quite a stretch to imply that Kirkconnell had no way of knowing her actions were questionable.
The issues surrounding Kirkconnell are also more substantial than simply this one party. Photos have also circulated of her wearing a Native American Halloween costume, and she also appears to have “liked” photos of white people dressed up in stereotypical “Mexican” ponchos and sombreros—as well as a photo of two people posed in front of a Confederate flag.
And then there’s the bigger problem, which permeates Bachelor Nation as a whole. Kirkconnell is not the first contestant in this series to face this kind of controversy. Two seasons ago on The Bachelorette, fans had to watch an entire season in agony knowing that the winner, Garrett Yrigoyen, had “liked” a series of horribly offensive tweets, which mocked, among others, the Parkland students, trans people, and undocumented immigrants. During Lindsay’s season of The Bachelorette, she had to deal with a race-based feud started by a contestant who’d tweeted, among other things, “What’s the difference between the NAACP and the KKK? Wait for it…One has the sense of shame to cover their racist ass faces.” Somehow, these posts passed the screening process.
It seems inevitable that Kirkconnell will wind up addressing this on air at some point before James’s season ends. Harrison said she was absent from the “Women Tell All,” but promised fans would hear from her. James, meanwhile, has already defended Kirkconnell, in a post reminiscent of Becca Kufrin’s early pleas for fans to give Garrett Yrigoyen the benefit of the doubt. (Those two have since broken up.)
“I have not spoken to anybody since the show ended, but I would say that you have to be really careful about what you are doing on social media,” James said. “Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people’s lives. So I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will have her time to speak on that.”
Representatives for ABC and Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.