Shortly after James' season premiered, fans found questionable photos of Rachael Kirkconnell, including some taken at a racist "Old South" party. For weeks, Rachael stayed silent on the matter before eventually apologizing and acknowledging the racism inherent in her actions. But, before that, host Chris Harrison had a lot to say when he was interviewed by former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay on Extra. Harrison repeatedly pushed back on Lindsay and suggested that Kirkconnell's photos weren't considered racist back when they were taken, in 2018. His repeated attempts to make excuses for Kirkconnell's behavior were beyond disappointing, and they prompted many Bachelor Nation members — including the women on James' season — to speak up in support of Lindsay, and against Harrison and the show's history.
On Feb. 22, in a lengthy Instagram post, James joined the chorus of Bachelor Nation members criticizing Harrison. He wrote that the past few weeks had been among "the most challenging" of his life as Kirkconnell's "disappointing photos" came to light and Harrison defended them on national TV. "The reality is that I'm learning about these situations in real-time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking, to put it bluntly," James wrote. "Chris's failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand intimately, was troubling and painful to watch." He added, "It was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years."
Most of James' post was directed at Harrison for his interview with Lindsay, with only a brief mention of the the photos of Kirkconnell. While it's striking that James said very little about Kirkconnell herself, it should be noted that James is contractually obligated not to spoil the outcome of the season, and sharing his opinion of Kirkconnell's past could very well give away the fate of the top 4 contestant. However, Matt did promise at the end of his statement that he plans to say more when The Bachelor concludes. He also called for "real and institutional change for the better" within the franchise, as many of his fellow contestants and fans have also asked for in recent weeks.
So far the biggest change to come from this whole situation is that Harrison is "stepping aside" from the franchise for the time being, including not hosting the finale's After the Final Rose special. The host also issued an apology for his comments on Extra. Shortly after Harrison's interview, Kirkconnell also posted an apology on her own Instagram.
But aside from their comments and the messages of solidarity for Lindsay and calls for change from much of Bachelor Nation, many people were most waiting to hear from James. As the first Black Bachelor in the show's two decade history, his thoughts on this issue mean a lot. And, if we're going to take him at his word, he's not done speaking yet.