Podcasts don’t usually make me cry. My roster is mostly Bachelor chatter and anything hosted by Nicole Byer, so tears are rarely necessary. Yet, listening to former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay speak on her podcast, Higher Learning, this Friday afternoon left me a dizzy, weepy puddle. If you’ve kept up with Bachelor Nation news this week, you know Lindsay was at the center of 2021’s biggest Bachelor controversy yet. “Face of the franchise,” as Lindsay calls him, Chris Harrison visited Lindsay’s TV home of Extra on Tuesday, February 9, to give a meandering 13-minute defense of racist practices and customs. Bachelor host/executive producer Harrison’s aim: To excuse the history of 2021 Bachelor front runner Rachael Kirkconnell, including a 2018 photo taken at an "Old South" party (Kirkconnell apologized days after the Extra video went live).
Harrison’s infuriating visit backfired spectacularly, leaving him at the center of a brand new reckoning over racism in Bachelor Nation (he issued an apology once demand for one reached a fever pitch). In the February 12 episode of Higher Learning, Lindsay spoke out about being at the receiving end of Harrison’s many hurtful comments, like multiple claims that society wasn't looking through critical “lenses” on racism in 2018.
“People of color are not given the benefit of the doubt,” Lindsay says on Higher Learning to explain her extremely polite response to Harrison’s increasingly harmful Extra words. “It is a struggle being a Black woman on television, because I have seen it happen to me the other way. I have to stay even-keel. I have to stay calm. I cannot react. I cannot show emotion. I cannot ‘show my slip,’ as you would say in the South.”
While Lindsay has long deserved better from The Bachelor universe as its first ever Black lead, her comments on Higher Learning cement the fact that the series’ producers have lost the right to deploy Lindsay as proof of “representation.” No matter what the series says about “improving diversity,” it is still taking the kinds of racist gaslighting and microaggressions millions of women of color experience in their lives, and inflicting them on Lindsay on national television.
In 2021 it needs to stop.
Lindsay’s reasoning for holding back with Harrison, due to years of experience, is simple: She knows she will immediately be labeled “angry” and “aggressive” should she do anything else. If Linsday’s position was diminished by such inherently racist assumptions, all pertinent conversation would halt. Lindsay would become the story, instead of the offensive behavior of 24-year-old Kirkconnell.
“When I saw how this interview was going, I said, ‘I’m just going to sit back and [I’m] going to let this man talk. I’m going to hold it together,” Lindsay continues. “For all those people who might have something to say about the way that I was reacting, I had to stay calm. Because I needed people to see and hear what was happening in that interview. And I needed people to take that.”
Lindsay had to sublimate her feelings and subjugate herself to multiple bizarrely racist statements from Harrison, just so viewers could understand what the leader of Bachelor Nation really thinks about race relations on the show and in society at large. As Lindsay says, she dealt with her internal “boiling” emotions by shuffling her hands and moving her foot under the table to keep the interview together enough to continue. This conversation was especially difficult for Lindsay considering the “compassion” and “grace” — two words Harrison uses repeatedly during the interview and Lindsay now uses in reference — Harrison heaped upon a woman who attended multiple racist parties. As Lindsay points out, Harrison couldn’t show the same respect for “this Rachel” or people offended by Kirkconnell’s behavior. Lindsay also cites the rude message of Harrison asking “who the hell are you” to people requesting an apology from Kirkconnell.
“During that conversation he talked over me and at me,” Lindsay says (while also confirming Harrison privately “apologized” once backlash began). “He never gave me room to talk and he never gave me room to share my perspective.”
This is how Lindsay, one of the most well-respected and powerful women in the entire Bachelor universe, feels after a recorded conversation with Chris Harrison. It is impossible to imagine how unprotected new women of color entering future seasons of The Bachelor will feel when they’re asked to confide in Harrison. Particularly during less public, one-on-one interactions. As Khaylah Epps, who competed for the heart of Matt James before being eliminated earlier this season, tweeted at the beginning of the Harrison controversy, “The way I would be portrayed on tv ATE. ME. ALIVE for weeks after I went home [because] I know ‘grace’ is never extended to black women.” Even now, after reaching the heights of Bachelor Nation with a leading gig in 2017 and a current franchise-sanctioned podcast, Rachel Lindsay still has these concerns.
It’s no surprise that she feels this pressure. In 2018, Lindsay said she “was placed on display for three hours and labeled an angry black female” by producers during her 2017 Bachelorette finale. In winter 2020, Lindsay was still tapped to come on The Bachelor’s “Women Tell All Special” and clarify the horror of racist trolling for viewers. By June of that same year, Lindsay admitted, “I am tired of asking for change [in diversity] and my requests have been ineffective. These changes have to extend beyond casting a lead of color.” Seven months later, Lindsay had to sit on the Extra stage and listen to Chris Harrison ask her if removing racist statues across America was really such a good idea.
Last year, Lindsay said of Bachelor Nation’s atrocious antiracist track record, “If changes are not made on the inside and outside of the franchise, I will dissociate myself from it.” In the wake of the Harrison interview, Lindsay tweeted her “days are numbered” in the franchise after four years of sacrificing herself to explain racism to millions of Bachelor fans. At least the most recent casts of The Bachelor and Bachelorette have thrown their support behind Lindsay with official social media statements. If you don’t want better for Rachel Lindsay at this point, either you aren’t listening — or you simply don’t care.