Where Is The Love? A Double Hot Take On The Bachelor, Race & This Season’s Apology Tour

Photo: courtesy of ABC.
The Bachelor host Chris Harrison thought his now-infamous February 9 conversation with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay had gone well. Moments after repeatedly interrupting and talking over a Black woman to arrogantly mansplain why a racist incident wasn’t actually racist, he jovially thanked her for their interview on Extra and said something to the effect of “I love that we can have discussions like this.” 
Lindsay and the rest of the Internet felt differently. 
The almost 14-minute raw interview went viral two weeks ago, holding a mirror up to a franchise that has been failing its contestants of color for years. (Harrison has since apologized and temporarily stepped away from his hosting duties with the franchise.) In the fallout from the interview, Lindsay expressed her desire to cut ties with the franchise, and multiple former and current contestants of color — including the first Black Bachelor (Matt James) himself — have come forward to condemn Harrison’s conduct. Harrison’s alarmingly audacious display of privilege and bigotry unearthed a truth Black fans of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and their adjacent shows already knew: Bachelor Nation has a race problem. When the face of the franchise exposed himself as just another careless, ignorant white dude in the middle of a “historic” season starring a Black Bachelor, the show could no longer ignore its own glaring blindspots. 
We’re now witnessing the crumbling of a dated franchise when all we wanted was some romance starring a hot Black lead, with a side of sloppy drama. 
This season of The Bachelor is a mess, but it’s not the standard “look at this drunk girl talking to a raccoon” mess nor the classic “why did Colton jump the fence?” mess — it’s more like one of the whitest franchises in television is finally facing its racial reckoning. Matt’s frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell went to an “Old South”-themed party while attending Georgia College and State University in 2018 (the offense Harrison vehemently defended, and Kirkconnell has since apologized for) and engaged in other racist behavior (liking a photo with a confederate flag in it, for example) and now, when we should just be scrutinizing Matt’s questionable taste in women and dance moves, we’re also having a global conversation about race and Bachelor Nation. 
But when February 15’s Bachelor episode rolled around, it was business as usual for The Bachelor. The network did not add any additional mention of the international scandal during the show’s pre-recorded broadcast, nor did it change anything in this week’s February 22 hometown date episode, during which Matt met Rachael's family (insert Get Out joke here). With only two episodes left, the possibility that she wins Matt’s heart over the two Black women left is just getting stronger. ABC may be trying to ignore the controversy, but we can’t.
As two culture critics, long-time Bachelor viewers, and Black women, we finally decided to delve into how Matt James is handling his leading man duties so far this season as well as tackle the franchise’s long-overdue conversation about race.
Photo: courtesy of ABC.
In the first episode of this season of The Bachelor, Matt and Chris Harrison have a conversation about the pressure that comes with being the first Black Bachelor. What did you think of it? 
Kathleen Newman-Bremang: This is what Matt said verbatim: “You’ve got people who are cheering for you to end up with a specific person of a specific race... I don’t want to piss off Black people, I don’t want to piss off white people. But I’m both of those. How do I please everybody?” He’s since clarified that he wasn’t trying to warn us that he wouldn’t pick a Black woman, but to me, this sounded like he was chastising Black fans for daring to want to see a Black love story on this show. 
I’ve watched this show for fifty-leven seasons. I will not apologize for wanting to see two Black people fall in love and ride off into the sunset together… because we haven’t seen that yet! I just want a fairytale, dammit. I loved watching Tayshia [Adams] and Rachel, two Black women, fall in love during their seasons, but we didn't get to see a Black love story in either of those cases. Just because the Black audience said, “Oh, it would be so nice to see a Black love story" doesn't mean that we’re pressuring Matt to pick a Black person. Matt can fall in love with whoever he wants to fall in love with, but to criticize anyone who wanted to see a Black love story from the jump was wild to me.  

I’ve watched this show for fifty-leven seasons. I will not apologize for wanting to see two Black people fall in love and ride off into the sunset together

Ineye Komonibo: I think Matt may be carrying around some insecurities about his identity as a biracial person — half Black and half white — and he’s projecting that onto us. He used the term “old school mentality” to describe people wanting him to date a certain type of person. I loved Eric, but that wasn't Rachel’s man. I also loved Ivan and Riley, but they didn’t get Tayshia's final rose. At the end of the day, you choose who you choose, but at least Rachel and Tayshia also didn't come into the show like, "Hey, I don't like X,Y,Z type of guy." Matt came in with an attitude and then lectured us about our desires, as if wanting to see Black love is archaic. Very sus.
Overall, how do you think Matt’s been doing this season? 
IK: I truly don't know because I tapped out after the second episode. Something happened between contestants Victoria and Marylynn where we were literally watching a woman of color being bullied by a white woman and I thought, This man doesn't have the guts nor the foresight to say, 'Oh, this is a sensitive situation.' The fact that The Bachelor cast a Black lead and tricked people into believing that it meant his attraction and his preferences were diverse when he himself let us know otherwise from the jump...that was so off-putting to me. That and the intentional parading of darker-skinned Black women as if they were actually relevant to the season was so exploitative and click-baity. 
When the Bachelor franchise puts Black people in the lead, they tend to populate the show with chaos. They don't allow it to be simple "he said, she said'' drama — it's always some racially-tinged drama that is very uncomfortable. As a result, there's no room for romance. The girls are not falling in love! The man is not falling in love! Plus, on a petty note, something about Matt does not give lead energy. I just wasn’t feeling it. 
KNB: I've been watching. There's this Instagram account called Bachelor Data, and they do a breakdown by the numbers of contestants of color who were cast versus their screen time. It basically shows that the white contestants get way more time on air during the season. This season, they cast a lot of beautiful, amazing Black women and women of color, but we barely saw them for the first five episodes. It was the Victoria show. It was the Kit and MJ show. At this point, I can’t tell if Matt’s being manipulated by producers who are clearly not Black, or if he’s just bland as hell with no backbone. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s the former. Also, if he doesn’t pick Michelle — and I have no faith that he will — I will never forgive him.
When all of the evidence started rolling in about frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell’s racist behavior, were you surprised? 
IK: I wasn't disappointed or surprised. At her big age, Rachael absolutely knew that an antebellum era themed-party that had been banned by the school and had to be held off campus was a bad idea. She still attended the function and kept the pictures up online because she didn’t think it was bad. But she was old enough to know better. I also find it funny that the team “vetted” her, clearly saw these pictures, and said, "Oh, okay. Anyway!" It's almost like they knew what they were doing and put her in this situation because they knew it was going to cause drama. 
KNB: And it wasn’t just that one instance. There’s the old South party, the fact that she liked a photo of her friends in front of a Confederate flag, the rumors that her parents have donated to pro-Trump organizations — all of that shit feels very American white girl to me. But just because it feels familiar and we may have encountered someone like her before doesn't mean that she deserves to be on a reality series where you have to go through a screening process in order to become a contestant.
I actually feel bad for Matt in this instance because someone like Rachael Kirkconnell should have never been in the running to win the heart of a Black man. They’ve done this before with Lee on Rachel’s season, who posted racist stuff on social media, and Garrett on Becca’s season, who was liking transphobic and hateful posts on Instagram. None of these people should have been on the show.
Photo: courtesy of ABC.
What do you think of Rachael’s apology? 
IK: As far as Instagram apologies go, I thought it was a solid apology that did hit a lot of important points. Whether it was sincere or not, or whether she actually wrote it is a different question. The part of her apology that actually resonated with me was when she said, "I know y'all must be frustrated." How many people in this franchise alone or just on TV in general have done racist things like this at an age when they knew better? And then they want to come back and say that they're so sorry for their actions? You know that this happens often — if you know better, you need to do better. 
KNB: The fact that this apology came after the Chris Harrison thing, which blew up and made this a national story, makes me question its sincerity. But if I take just the words in her apology at face value, the hope is that she’ll learn from her actions and move forward and, like you said, do better. I hate calling it “cancel culture” because it’s basically just trying to hold people accountable and say, "Hey, your words and actions have consequences. And we're going to point that out." For someone like Rachael Kirkconnell, who is like a lot of white girls who are ignorant and have implicit biases and racist tendencies, they need to be told about themselves. It doesn't necessarily need to be me telling them or you, but other white girls can tell them. 

The Bachelor needs Black people. They need Black viewers. But they’re not paying attention, and they’re not respecting us.

Ineye Komonibo
IK:  Exactly. The people who should be holding her accountable are other white “allies.” It’s truly unfortunate that Black people always have to spend our time responding to anti-Blackness. There’s already so much labor they've had to do since this whole thing happened — there was a whole coalition of people of color on the show putting out union statements — but why do they have to do that? Someone else should be doing that work.
KNB: Let's say Rachael and Matt are together. I feel like she's going to hide behind her relationship and be like, "I'm with this Black man. I love him. I'm changed. That’s the end of it.” And that's not enough for me. The apology is good, but it’s only step one.
What did you think of Chris Harrison’s interview with Rachel Lindsay about the situation? 
KNB: My blood started boiling from the first minute. And it wasn't because of shock or surprise; it was because of the sheer caucacity of that man to be so wrong and strong in that moment after the year that we've had, and after everything Rachel Lindsay has said and done for that franchise. In 2017, Chris hosted and produced a season of television with Rachel as the Black Bachelorette, where people talked about racism because they cast a fucking racist on her season. And he’s trying to say people didn't know better in 2018? Please. In this interview, he talked over Rachel and invalidated her experience, and it was infuriating because every Black woman has been in conversations like this. I've been in those conversations with white men. Chris Harrison showed us exactly who he is. 
IK: The thing that really stuck with me was his absolute disdain for the word “woke.” He kept using the term like it was some kind of disgusting curse word. It was dripping with so much malice, as if the “woke police” was calling him a racist, as if Rachel Kirkconnell was his sister or his child.
Apparently, to Chris, it's a crime to care about oppressed people. It’s a crime to be cognizant of the painful past that white Americans in the South inflicted for 400 years and then some, and to this day, are still inflicting against Black people. Imagine promoting a show with the first Black Bachelor and praising diversity but simultaneously hating the very idea of people being evolved enough to say, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't have an antebellum-era party."
KNB: I think you bring up such an amazing point, which is that he looked at Rachel Kirkconnell as his daughter.
IK: Or as an extension of himself.
KNB: Exactly. Chris Harrison saw Rachael Kirkconnell as someone who he needed to protect, defend and stand up for, but he’s never looked at Rachel Lindsay in the same light. Where was this energy when Rachel was getting denigrated by racist trolls and fielding disgusting threats online? If you argue that he was trying to protect the show and its lead because Rachael probably wins, well, Rachel Lindsay is also one of his leads. So is Tayshia Adams. So is Matt James. Chris clearly doesn’t see himself in them. He decided that the priority was not to stand up for the oppressed group but for this “poor girl” who has done racist shit in her adult past. 
What do you think of Chris “temporarily” stepping away from the franchise? 
KNB: Words mean things. And having a job is not a right. If you work for a company, you are at risk of losing your job if you do something fucked up. He did something fucked up, and he is facing those consequences.
IK: I always say this: You need to apologize on the same platform that you were violating on. So yes, Chris Harrison should have booked another interview with ET, with E! News, with Extra and said, "I was being disrespectful." He used a major platform to spew his now-viral apologist nonsense, but now he wants us to go click on his Instagram page so we can see him say that he’s sorry? No. You need to get on camera, sir.
KNB: If your offense is public, your apology needs to be just as public. 

Chris Harrison saw Rachael Kirkconnell as someone who he needed to protect, and stand up for, but he’s never looked at Rachel Lindsay in the same light.

Kathleen Newman-Bremang
Does The Bachelor franchise deserve Rachel Lindsay? Should she leave?
IK: Rachel Lindsay is synonymous with The Bachelor franchise. Even if she cuts ties, the way that misogyny and racism is so prevalent, I don’t know that she will ever be able to escape The Bachelor. I think that if I were her, I would stay in it, collect my check, and keep chatting my shit: "I don't care. It's trash! They’re all trash!"
KNB: I've been listening to her on all these podcasts and she's like, "I'm tired. I've been saying this shit forever." She wanted to be The Bachelorette to bring change to this franchise, and she has moved the needle a bit. Tayshia and Matt are examples of that.  Yes, she'll always be tied to The Bachelor, but she doesn't owe them shit. I just want her to be peaceful and happy (even if it’s not with Peter!), because this franchise has never deserved her. Rachel doesn’t speak for all Black women everywhere and she shouldn’t have to. 
IK: The current conversation about race on The Bachelor is truly Diversity 101 — very basic. But it shouldn’t be Rachel’s job to teach critical race theory on The Bachelor and be the Malcolm X of the franchise.
How do you think the white members of Bachelor Nation have been handling this conversation about race?
IK: I'm not impressed. It's very, "I see you and I hear you and I'm with you, “ and there's something so tired about that kind of allyship. Compared to the labor that the Black and Brown people in Bachelor Nation are doing, it’s just not enough. Taylor Nolan is getting on Instagram daily to post whole seminars about anti-racism; she's doing the labor while the white Bachelor contestants are just reposting her content. Maybe you weren’t the one saying the N word, maybe you weren’t at the antebellum party, but where is your work? Show up for Black people by using your own words. 
KNB: Taylor actually brought this up in one of her lives. I think they're all worried about saying the wrong thing or being uncomfortable. But if discomfort is what you're worried about, you are privileged as fuck. 
Matt James has finally addressed the controversy. What did you think of his statement? 
IK: I’m of two minds about it. One one hand, I’m rolling my eyes because it only scratches the surface of what’s actually going on. The woman you may have proposed to has an anti-Black history, and the man in charge of the franchise thinks it’s perfectly okay — you should really have more to say after all this time. But, I also have to remember that Matt is new to this platform and to this level of celebrity, so I’m trying to give him grace. He won’t always have the right words to say, especially in a situation that is so unconventional for this show and so unique to his experience as the first Black Bachelor. 
KNB: Matt uses the words “devastating” and “heartbreaking” and to be honest, the statement made me a bit emotional. This corny ass man is getting to me! I just feel bad for him that he had to address this at all. I appreciate that he included, “it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years,” but I wish he had been more specific about what those issues are. I also find it interesting that he’s still “processing” when this has been going on for almost six weeks now. He’s had a lot of time! I feel sorry for him that he has to confront things white Bachelors have never had to deal with, and that he doesn’t get the uncomplicated fairytales they got, but I also wish he dug a little deeper. 
Are you going to keep watching The Bachelor or The Bachelorette? 
KNB: Every season I'm like, "I ain't watching this shit no more," and then I'm back. But seriously, I think I'm done. Unless Chris Harrison's exit is permanent, unless ABC shows us what The Bachelor producers and their executives look like and they make structural changes so behind-the-scenes is more diverse, I’m out.  There are reality shows starring Black people that I'm going to go invest my time in now. I probably should have given it up a long time ago. 
IK:  I think that now's the perfect time for us to start divesting from this problematic franchise anyway. The Bachelor needs Black people. They need Black viewers. But they’re not paying attention, and they’re not respecting us. So it's time.

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