Controversy Surrounding “The Bachelor” Sparks Nationwide Discussion on Race

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Samantha Bender, News Editor

As the ABC dating show, “The Bachelor,” wraps up its 25th season, photos of a current contestant have surfaced on social media, sparking racial controversy. 

This season of the bachelor stars the first black bachelor in the show’s history, Matt James. It also features contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, and despite remaining in the final three, she has been at the heart of the current nationwide discussion on race.

Photos of Kirkconnell attending an antebellum-themed college party in 2018 have circulated around social media platforms. Fans and contestants from past seasons of the show were quick to share their reactions.

A former star of “The Bachelorette” and “ExtraTV” correspondent, Rachel Lindsay, was the first Black bachelorette in the show’s history in 2017. She interviewed Chris Harrison, the host of the show to get his perspective on the situation. 

“Well Rachel, is it not a good look in 2018?” Harrison asked in the “Extra” interview. “Or is it not a good look in 2021?”

Lindsay was quick to acknowledge that Kirkconnell’s actions are not a good look ever. The 13-minute interview garnered immediate backlash on Harrison’s behalf for what some fans saw as ignorant, racist remarks.

Harrison also said in the interview that the Bachelor franchise was not aware of the photos and wouldn’t release a statement and speak for Kirkconnell who has since taken to social media to apologize.

Rachael Kirkconnell broke her silence by releasing a personal statement on Instagram via @rachaelkirkconnell

Mikayla Martin, a 22-year-old fan of the show, said she thinks the photos have sparked such a big conversation due to the fact that Kirkconnell is dating a man of color.

“Obviously [she has] to learn from this, hopefully [she’s] learning the best way, you know,” Martin said. “I don’t want to be like you can’t dwell on the past, so obviously fix it and figure it out for the future.”

Since the interview, Harrison has posted several apologies on Instagram and announced his decision to step away from the Bachelor franchise for some time. 

Central’s Director of African American Studies, Dr. Felton Best, said he agrees with Lindsay that the photos are not a good look ever, but acknowledges that Harrison has been placed in a controversial position. Best also said that Harrison tried to explain what he perceived as a young person that was caught in an existential dilemma because she is dating an African American male and, because of this, is perceived to have no bias.

“So this decision to go to this party that did take place at a southern plantation is something that is controversial and something that [Kirkconnell] feels not inclined to answer to,” Best said. “I think [Harrison] is somewhat defensive in that context because it is probably very embarrassing. It probably does not reflect the image that she would like to convey and it certainly does not reflect a person living in an era of the Black Lives Matter Movement, so it’s bringing so much attention to that.”

Best pointed out that this situation shows similar ties to recent controversies in the past regarding other prominent figures.

This reminds me of many southern politicians that are conceived as liberal. who they discover, of course, went to parties where they had black paint on their face,” Best said. “And they would say things such as, ‘that was years ago and I’ve evolved since that time’. [Kirkconnell’s] problem is that this was a recent episode, and not something that was a couple of decades ago.”

Best also said in his interview that because Kirkconnell is a white female, she has a high chance of being forgiven and white privilege plays a key role in this.

It’s not only about what a person does but who can do this. If I, an African American, went to a private group that became public in 2018… If I was saying racial and rude things against Jews, or sexist language against women, or even derogatory terms against whites, I would not get a pass in any of those areas being African American because I would not have the privilege of giving an explanation that because it happened a few years ago that I was not aware,” Best said. “The assumption would be that what I said is who I am.”

Best also mentioned that educating people on race is extremley important and wants future conversations to hold a deeper meaning.

“I think education will help break stereotypes across gender, class, racial issues,” Best said.

To watch Chris Harrison and Rachel Lindsay’s full interview, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hmY1gSAuRk