On Feb. 9, Harrison sat down for an interview with “Extra” correspondent Rachel Lindsay, a former franchise star who was the first Black Bachelorette in the show’s history in 2017. They started discussing the controversy surrounding current “Bachelor” Season 25 contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, whose recently unearthed social media history revealed that she had “liked” a post with friends posing in front of a Confederate flag; shared an Instagram post whose language echoed the QAnon extremist ideology; and attended an “Old South” antebellum-themed sorority party in college. Kirkconnell is still in the running and competing to win the affection of Matt James, who is the first Black lead of “The Bachelor.”
Shortly after Harrison’s interview with Lindsay aired, Kirkconnell wrote an apology on Instagram: “I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.”
But at the time of the “Extra” interview, when Lindsay brought up the allegations about Kirkconnell, Harrison went on the defensive, saying, “The woke police is out there, and this poor girl Rachael has just been thrown to the lions.” He added that he hadn’t spoken to Kirkconnell about it yet but said it was “unbelievably alarming” to watch people online “tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into her parents and her parents’ voting record,” as well as her social media posts.
“I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago, and that’s it. Like, boom. Like, ‘OK. Well, this girl is in this book now. And she’s now in this group.’ And I’m like, really?” Harrison said.
“Well, the picture was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party. So that’s not a good look,” Lindsay said.
“Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018? Or is it not a good look in 2021?” Harrison argued. “Because there’s a big difference.”
“It’s not a good look ever,” Lindsay told him. “Because she’s celebrating the Old South. If I were at that party, what would I represent?”
“I don’t disagree with you. You’re 100 percent right in 2021. That was not the case in 2018,” Harrison said. “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.”
As Lindsay continued to explain the issue, Harrison kept urging “grace and understanding” for Kirkconnell, whom he argued was an 18-year-old college student at the time who didn’t have the understanding to tell her friends: “Guys, it’s not really that woke that we’re here.”
Harrison’s comments and what many considered his condescending tone sparked outrage from fans. On her podcast “Higher Learning” with Van Lathan later in the week, Lindsay said that she was “exhausted” by the diversity issues in the franchise, which she has spoken out against for years. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said, adding that she would stop working with the franchise once her contract is up. (She also hosts a Bachelor-sponsored podcast with former “Bachelorette” star Becca Kufrin.)
The following day, Harrison issued an apology after seeing the backlash: “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. 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.” As of Saturday, he announced that he will step aside from the show indefinitely.
“To the Black community, to the BIPOC community: I am so sorry. My words were harmful. I am listening, and I truly apologize for my ignorance and any pain it caused you,” he wrote. “I am so grateful to those who have reached out to help me on my path to anti-racism.”
“This historic season of ‘The Bachelor’ should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions,” he added.
For years, ABC and its production company, Warner Bros., have been criticized for their lack of diversity in casting and in how contestants of color are treated on the show. In 2012, two Black men who applied for “The Bachelorette” (and were not chosen) accused the show of discriminating against people of color. Their suit was dismissed. Former Bachelorette Lindsay saw disparities between the treatment of her season finale and that of the next Bachelorette, Kufrin, who is White. “I was placed on display for three hours and labeled an angry Black female,” Lindsay said, after Kufrin’s 2018 finale.
This past summer, as Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country, prompting a racial reckoning throughout American culture, the Whiteness of Bachelor shows was again put under the microscope. A Change.org petition called on ABC and Warner Bros. to cast a person of color in the lead role, hire more crew members of color and give contestants of color screen time that’s comparable to that of White contestants.
Lindsay also threatened to stop working with Bachelor Nation, saying the culture surrounding the shows “perpetuates and mirrors exactly what is wrong in our society and [continues] to play into an audience that is willing to accept it, and I’m tired of it.” She also suggested she was tired of feeling like the franchise doesn’t have her back. “There have been a number of times that contestants have done racist things or said it and the franchise is completely silent on it. . . . I’m sick of pretending that I’m fine with it.”
Shortly after Lindsay’s comments in June, James was announced as “The Bachelor’s” first Black lead. Harrison agreed to step down only after Lindsay made public her frustrations with his initial response to the unearthing of Kirkconnell’s social media posts.
In Kirkconnell’s apology, she said she would do better: “I want to put my energy toward preventing people from making the same offensive mistakes that I made in the first place, and I hope I can prove this to you going forward.”