The Bachelor Franchise Doesn’t Deserve Any More “Grace”
Chris Harrison’s recent commentary is a testament to the franchise’s archaic ways.
The Bachelor franchise doesn’t lead the conversation, it responds to it — whether that’s bullying, racism, or sexism on their shows and in their fandom. More often than not, the ABC franchise fails to take accountability for their “missteps,” like when they repeatedly cast contestants with racist pasts on their shows. Even worse, the show cast such contestants on the first seasons featuring Black leads: for Rachel Lindsay’s season in 2017, and now Matt James’ in 2021. (Tayshia Adams was also a season’s Black lead, but the show cast contestants for the season’s initial Bachelorette, Clare Crawley.)
At the beginning of James’ season, people on The Bachelor subreddit discovered photos of a current contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, at an “Old South” plantation party. The occasion commemorates the history of the south. Her sorority, Kappa Alpha, banned the event due to its racial ties in 2016. Redditors also found photos of her participating in cultural appropriation.
On Wednesday, February 9, Rachel Lindsay interviewed Chris Harrison, the show’s host, about the casting controversy on Extra TV. For what seemed like the first time in the franchise’s history, the host led a conversation while simultaneously responding to it. Lindsay simply asked Harrison, “What are your thoughts about Rachael Kirkconnell, and the allegations attached to her?” and he replied, “First of all, I do not know. I haven’t talked to Rachael about it.” Harrison added, “this is again where we need to have a little grace, a little understanding, and a little compassion.”
In the first fifteen seconds of the interview, Harrison instantly placed the responsibility onto Kirkconnell in an attempt to rid the franchise of blame in casting yet another contestant with a racist past on a season featuring a Black lead. Harrison also excused the white woman’s past. A minute into Harrison’s rant, Lindsay interjected, “Well the picture [of Kirkconnell] was from 2018 at an old south antebellum party, so I think it’s not a good look.”
He replied, “Well Rachel, is it not a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021?”
Lindsay immediately answered: “It’s not a good look ever cause she’s celebrating the old south. If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?”
The debate should’ve ended there.
Of course, for the next twelve minutes and thirty-one seconds, Harrison bulldozes Lindsay and mansplains American culture and racism to her. He flip-flops between referring to Kirkconnell as a woman and a young girl — excusing her racist actions by calling them “mistakes.” He criticizes the “woke police,” but ultimately deters responsibility onto them and their judgment by declaring, “I am not the woke police, there’s plenty of people, plenty of people who will do that for us in this world right now.”
Which one is it? Is Kirkconnell a girl or a woman? Are the “woke police” out of line or our culture’s thought leaders?
At one point, Harrison noted that “we need to be careful when we label a person in that [a judgmental] way; it’s just as bad as what that person did.” At once, he equated a person’s racist actions and a reasonable judgment based on someone’s past. Words are as meaningful as actions in Harrison’s eyes. If that logic holds any water, then Harrison’s words were strong enough to face serious consequences.
A day after the interview, Harrison posted an apology on Instagram. He explained the intent behind his actions and acknowledged how he perpetuated racism. Harrison also extended an apology to Lindsay, writing, “I also apologize to my friend Rachel Lindsay for not listening to her better on a topic she has a first-hand understanding of.” He concluded, “I promise to do better.”
On Friday, February 12, on The Ringer’s Higher Learning podcast, Lindsay unpacked the severity of his words, how people of color are not extended the same “grace” as white people, and her experience of the infamous interview. She acknowledged his apology, but in the end saw it for what it was: a response to the backlash.
Here is her quotation in full:
My biggest thing with Chris Harrison is he’s apologized since then and I definitely wanna say he did reach out to me and we did have a conversation, a short conversation, but we had a conversation, and he apologized and I appreciate that. And then he did the statement. But I’m having a really hard time reasoning or really taking in and accepting this apology. And I’ll tell you why.
When I finished that interview with Chris Harrison, he had no problems with it. He was fine. He texted me after. He appreciated the conversation. He thought that “yeah I’ll probably get a little flack” but thought it was great that we could disagree but do it in a civil way. It wasn’t until the backlash came the next day. It wasn’t until people started calling out and demanding for different things that he then apologized to me and then apologized publicly. So you gotta see, for me, I have to reason, well which one is it? Because to me, Tuesday was your truth and Wednesday, after the fact, was a response to the backlash.
During that whole conversation, he had the audacity to question me. During that conversation, he talked over me and at me. During that conversation, his privilege was on display. He never gave me room to talk and he never gave me room to share my perspective. He wasn’t trying to hear it, he was just trying to be heard. And that’s because he had an agenda that he was trying to push.
He expressed everything he said with passion and conviction. So for me, Tuesday is what it was. I’m not saying he can’t be apologetic. I’m not saying that he can’t learn and be better from it like he said in his statement, but you’ll have to give me some space and give me some passion and some grace to take the time to really reason and accept that, because that was a lot.
The same day, both James’ cast and the prior Bachelorette season’s cast released statements in solidarity with the contestants of color, in which they denounce racism. The statements mention they stand united with Lindsay. Two days later, Chris Harrison posted another statement on Instagram, issuing a second apology and announcing that he would temporarily step down as the host for the current season’s after-show. Harrison expressed that he did not want his actions to overshadow or mar the “historic season.”
I’ve covered the franchise since Hannah Brown’s 2019 Bachelorette season. I’ve witnessed the franchise exploit Lindsay for her emotional labor and tokenize her as the show’s unofficial Black spokesperson. I’ve written exposés on the ABC franchise’s racist history and critiqued their inability to keep up with the times. I even wondered if the franchise still needed Chris Harrison as a host.
Never before have I seen such an implosion and “misstep” from the franchise. Chris Harrison doesn’t need to temporarily step down. ABC needs to fire him. The franchise needs a complete overhaul. ABC should issue a statement. The franchise must take accountability for their violent castings and stop gaslighting the public into believing that they play no role in this never-ending harm. Harrison attempted to utilize Kirkconnell as the franchise’s scapegoat, and ultimately became the franchise’s scapegoat himself.
I will say this once and for all: The Bachelor franchise is an outdated system that will always represent American dating ideals; you must be white, Christian, and straight. If you as a contestant or lead do not conform to one of these norms, you must possess the other two qualities. Just like most successful American systems, The Bachelor franchise will never fully work for the underrepresented and marginalized when it wasn’t constructed for them or their benefit.
I’ve seen the media, the fans, and advertisers provide the franchise grace for its harmful depiction of people of color and indifference toward Bachelor nation’s racism. They don’t deserve it. They never have. It’s not worth supporting a system for the sake of representation when the system cannot handle such vital representation with compassion and grace.
In June 2020, I argued that it was time for the franchise to die. Maybe it should. But if you’re a fan and want it to survive, boycott the advertisers and demand an overhaul of the system and who is in charge.
Temporarily suspending Harrison isn’t enough. He will never be the beginning or the end of this problem.