Racism Behind the Rose

Rachael+Kirkconnell+and+Matt+James+Speak+at+%22After+the+Final+Rose%22.

ABC

Rachael Kirkconnell and Matt James Speak at “After the Final Rose”.

Whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny that the Bachelor Franchise has produced the most dating shows in America. Premiering in 2002, The Bachelor has captivated Americans in one man’s journey to find love. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, one bachelor is chosen every season to meet and date a group of thirty plus women. The bachelor is able to get to know these women through group and one-on-one dates. The success of The Bachelor has led to many spin-offs such as The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and various international versions. Recently, the Bachelor Franchise has come under fire for the racism within its shows, a critique which is long overdue.

The most recent season of The Bachelor featured Matt James as the series’ first black lead in the 19 years the show has been on the air. James was announced as the bachelor for season 25 in June of 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. This announcement came after a Change.org petition with over 165,000 signatures demanded the next season featured a black lead.  Fans were very excited to watch Matt’s season. Towards the middle of the season, fans caught wind of eventual winner Rachael Kirkconnell’s racially insensitive past. Photos began to surface on Reddit of Kirkconnell at an “Old South” sorority ball in 2018 with her sorority at Georgia College & State University. The ball was hosted by the campus’ chapter of the Kappa Alpha sorority, which has historical ties to the KKK. The old south theme celebrates the Antebellum south, which was an era of slavery. The sorority women who attended the ball were expected to dress as southern belles, and their dates were expected to dress as Confederate soldiers. Kappa Alpha’s national offices had banned the old south theme in 2016, two years before the event took place. Kirkconnell has also been accused of teasing her high school classmates for liking black men, and liking pro-Trump posts on social media. She has since acknowledged her past racially insensitive behavior and apologized, and has asked people not to defend her.

To make matters worse, Bachelor host Chris Harrison sat down for an interview a few days later with Rachel Lindsay, who was the first black bachelorette in 2017. When Lindsay brought up Rachael Kirkconnell’s racially insensitive photos, Harrison defended her saying, “I haven’t heard Rachael speak on this yet. Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this? I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that’s it.” While he did acknowledge the photos weren’t a “good look”, Harrison asked Lindsay, “Is it [not] a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021? 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. Were we all looking through [that lens] in 2018”. Harrison did receive a lot of backlash for his statements and has since publicly apologized. He’s also personally apologized to Lindsay as well. However, Lindsay had to deactivate her Instagram account because she received hateful comments from people siding with Harrison after the interview. As of right now, Harrison is stepping back from the franchise because of his problematic remarks. On March 13th, it was announced that former Bachelorettes Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe would be hosting the next season of The Bachelorette instead of Harrison

Prior to this, it was announced on February 27th that Fox Sports analyst Emmanuel Acho would host After the Final Rose in place of Harrison. After the Final Rose is a special that airs after the last episode of the season, where viewers find out what has happened with the bachelor and his winner in the months since filming. The runner up and third place contestants are also interviewed and will usually come face to face with the bachelor to discuss what went wrong with their relationships. Acho is the host of the webcast Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, so he was equipped to talk about the controversy surrounding this season. When he questioned Kirkconnell about her racially insensitive photos, she said “I see someone who was living in this ignorance, without thinking who it might be hurting”. When James was brought out, he explained that he and Kirkconnell did date after the show, but he ended their relationship when her past was brought to light. James explained the reason he ended their relationship was because she needed to educate herself and reflect on her actions, which he felt like she could only do alone. He went on to say, “It was in the context of you not fully understanding my Blackness…and what it would mean for our kids when I saw these things floating around the internet”. As of now, James has revealed he’s taking time to process everything from the last few months.

Season 25 of The Bachelor was by no means the first time there had been issues with race surrounding the show. Over the years, there has been a lack of diversity within the casts, and black contestants have dealt with traumatic microaggressions. Buzzfeed News recently interviewed four black contestants from previous seasons. Season 20 contestant, Jubilee Sharpe, was the only fully black contestant on her season. Upon her arrival, she became very anxious when she realized she didn’t look like the majority of the other contestants. She soon developed feelings of doubt, feeling unsure why Bachelor Ben Higgins was keeping her on the show. In Sharpe’s conversations with Higgins, he would often describe her as “intriguing”. By contrast, Higgins would refer to his eventual winner, Lauren Bushnell, as “the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on”. When the show finally aired, she discovered that the women who were nice to her face would often say negative things about her behind her back. Contestant Lauren Himle told cameras she didn’t think Sharpe would be a good fit for Higgins because he wanted a wife that hangs out with “all the other soccer moms”. This implied to Sharpe that she wouldn’t fit in with the other “soccer moms” because she was black.

Many questions from viewers have arisen in the past few weeks such as, “Why don’t producers look into contestants’ pasts more?” “Why did it take this long to have a black bachelor?” and “Why the lack of diversity within the casts?”. The Bachelor Franchise has yet to answer any of these questions. The racism within the franchise has gone on too long, and it’s time to hold them accountable. The Bachelor Franchise needs to do more than just have diverse casts. It’s also important to have people of color behind the cameras, as well as someone behind the scenes who can deal with any racial issues on set. It’s also important to air any important conversations on race, such as the one that took place on season 16 of The Bachelorette between bachelorette Tayshia Adams and contestant Ivan Hall. Casting producers also need to start looking into social media pages of potential contestants more, so they can avoid casting people with past offensive posts. In order for things to change, the Bachelor Franchise needs to commit to being actively anti-racist both on set and behind the scenes.