In a tense February interview on “Extra” with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black woman to star on “The Bachelorette,” Harrison excused Kirkconnell’s actions, saying he was not “the woke police” and noted that although Kirkconnell’s posts weren’t acceptable in 2021, they weren’t such a misstep just a few years ago.
For years, viewers have criticized the Bachelor shows for being overwhelmingly White; former contestants have alleged that racial discrimination takes place in casting. Lindsay has long been pushing the Bachelor shows to increase their diversity in front of and behind the camera. She’s faced online bullying in response to such criticism and recently stepped down from co-hosting the “Bachelor Happy Hour” podcast to protect her mental health.
Harrison announced his break less than a week later. Appearing on “Good Morning America” in March, he apologized for how he handled the revelations, saying: “By excusing historical racism, I defended it. I invoked the term ‘woke police,’ which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was. I was so wrong.” Harrison noted that he had been working with a race educator and strategist, and seeking counsel from Michael Eric Dyson, a prominent Black minister and scholar. “Racism, oppression — these are big, dynamic problems. And they take serious work — and I am committed to that work,” Harrison said.
Kirkconnell apologized for her social media posts as well. However, while the show was filming, James didn’t know about Kirkconnell’s past. He ended up picking Kirkconnell as his winner and then breaking up with her during an emotional finale in March. For that episode’s edition of “After the Final Rose,” a substitute host was brought in — Emmanuel Acho, a former National Football League linebacker and author of “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.” James told Acho that he tried to be there for Kirkconnell, but he realized she did not understand what it means to be Black in America. Ultimately, they broke up, with James noting that Kirkconnell had a lot of self-educating to do. According to news reports, they got back together in May, with James telling the Wall Street Journal: “I think it’s unfair to leave people without the ability to unlearn and be better.”
On Monday night, former Bachelorettes Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe showed up instead of Harrison to help Bachelorette Katie Thurston navigate her season. The vibe was distinctly different from a typical season premiere. Instead of an uncle-type figure trying to relate but seeming to be focused on the drama, the show had a tone of two girlfriends helping their single friend have fun while navigating a high-pressure situation: How do you stay grounded while dating 30 men on national television?