This season of The Bachelor was supposed to be groundbreaking: After 19 years, Bachelor Nation's flagship show finally cast a Black lead, and we got to watch the most diverse group of contestants yet compete for his heart, roses, and a Neil Lane ring. But these actions alone couldn’t erase the franchise’s history of racism, both on-screen and off. After a disturbing interview in which host Chris Harrison defended a white contestant’s racist social media activity and photos from an “Old South”-themed formal, the longtime face of the show is out (the contestant has since apologized, as has Harrison). The biggest question now is, what happens next?
But first, let’s back up. Here’s how we got to where we are, what’s happening now, and what needs to change. Harrison’s recent interview wasn’t the beginning and end of the show’s serious and storied issues.
How did 2021's Bachelor controversy start?
The Bachelor has always had a problem with racism. For years, women of color have gotten less screen time than their white counterparts, and it took 25 seasons for the show to even cast a Black lead. The franchise, which includes The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, has also platformed multiple contestants with racist and misogynistic social media posts, including one who would go on to storm the U.S. Capitol, another who won his season, and another who was cast on the first Black Bachelorette’s season.
This could be due to a harmful, irresponsible failure to vet contestants, but more skeptical fans and cast members have wondered whether the producers just don’t care — or worse, whether they cast bigoted contestants like Lee Garrett for the sole purpose of creating drama. In any case, the show hasn’t learned its lesson. Just days after Matt’s season premiered, the unparalleled sleuths on Reddit unveiled evidence that Rachael Kirkconnell, who was given a clear frontrunner edit, had a history of dressing in culturally offensive costumes, sharing posts from conservative conspiracy theory accounts, and liking pictures featuring a Confederate flag and cultural appropriation. Weeks into the season, fans uncovered photos of Kirkconnell at an “Old South” fraternity formal that took place in 2018.
Then, Chris Harrison decided to share his thoughts on Kirkconnell, the “judge, jury, executioner thing,” and plantation-themed parties. And that’s when the show’s deep-seated racism blew up in a way that even the powers that be couldn’t ignore.
What did Chris Harrison say and do before he was removed from The Bachelor?
Former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, who currently co-hosts a popular Bachelor Nation podcast and uses her platform to advocate for better BIPOC representation and treatment within the franchise, interviewed Harrison about the recent allegations of racism on February 9 for Extra. He proceeded to talk over Lindsay, tell her we need to “have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion,” and accused “the woke police” of attacking Kirkconnell.
“My guess? These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time. They were 18 years old. Now, does that make it okay? I don’t know. You tell me,” Harrison told Lindsay. “Is it [not] a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021?”
Kirkconnell was either 21 or 22 at the time the photos were taken. “Old South” parties, a former Kappa Alpha Order tradition, were banned by the fraternity’s national board of director in 2016, but many colleges and universities — including Kirkconnell’s — continued hosting these events. Attending and dressing up for antebellum-themed events is, and never has been, “a good look,” in any year.
After the interview, Harrison received immediate criticism from viewers and past contestants, prompting him to release a statement on Instagram. “By excusing historical racism, I defended it. I invoked the term ‘woke police,’ which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was,” he wrote. “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.” Kirkconnell has apologized for her “offensive and racist” actions and asked her followers to stop defending her past actions.
On her podcast Higher Learning, Lindsay said that Harrison also apologized to her personally. But, she pointed out, he hadn’t seen any issue with his behavior until people began calling for him to apologize and resign from his job. “He texted me after. He appreciated the conversation. He was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll probably get a little flak, but I thought it was great that we could disagree but do it in a civil way.’ It wasn’t until the backlash came the next day,” Lindsay explained on February 12. “For me, I’m trying to reason, well, which one is it? Because to me, Tuesday was your truth. And Wednesday is after the fact.”
How Chris Harrison was replaced on The Bachelor & The Bachelorette
On February 13, Harrison announced that he would not be joining the post-finale “After the Final Rose” special. “This historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred over overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions,” he wrote. The show later announced that Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL player and the bestselling author of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, would host the special instead.
For awhile, there was no word on whether Harrison would return for the next season of The Bachelorette, which will likely air this spring. But on March 13, ahead of the finale, Warner Horizon and ABC Entertainment released a statement via Instagram, confirming that former Bachelorettes Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe would “support the new Bachelorette” next season.
Is Chris Harrison leaving The Bachelor permanently?
Harrison has definitely made it clear that wants to return, but whether he will, or should, is another question. “I plan to be back and I want to be back. This interview is not the finish line,” Harrison said in a pre-taped March 14 interview on Good Morning America. “I’m an imperfect man. I made a mistake and I own that. I believe that mistake doesn’t reflect who I am or what I stand for.”
Michael Strahan, who interviewed Harrison, discussed their conversation after the fact. He told his co-hosts that the apology felt surface level. “Obviously, he's a man who clearly wants to stay on this show, but only time will tell if there is any meaning behind his words,” Strahan said.
As for the work Harrison has promised to do, he is reportedly working with “a race educator and strategist,” faith leaders, and leading academics like Michael Eric Dyson. In a recent Extra interview, Acho told Lindsay that he has had some “very helpful, very good conversations” with Harrison.
It looks like Harrison is angling to return to the franchise after this next season of The Bachelorette, but some alums say that’s too soon. “For myself, for example, if they have future shows and if they were to ask me to be on Bachelor in Paradise or something like that — and I'm sure a lot of the other contestants feel this way as well — I wouldn't feel comfortable if Chris is there, to be quite frank,” fan favorite contestant Ivan Hall told E! News’ Daily Pop. “[I’m] not saying he can’t make a recovery, he can’t learn from all this, but it would just be too soon.” Chelsea Vaughn, who competed on Matt’s season, told Refinery29 that she’d “wait and see” what happens next within the franchise before making any decisions about Bachelor in Paradise, should she be asked to join.
And many members of Bachelor Nation believe Harrison’s removal should be permanent. A Change.org petition calling for Harrison to leave has over 40,000 signatures. “Chris cannot return to his role as host of The Bachelor if the franchise is serious about committing to antiracism and creating a safe space for its cast, crew, and production teams,” wrote the Bachelor Diversity Campaign, a group of fans working to increase awareness about racism within the franchise and push for change.
Why Chris Harrison stepping down won't fix The Bachelor
The Bachelor’s racism problem extends beyond Chris Harrison, and many fans, podcast hosts, and former contestants have pointed out the need for more BIPOC representation behind the scenes, and a better contestant vetting system. (Just hire some of the users on Bachelor Reddit. They’re good at this.)
“I think it starts at the top, so that means making sure that the people in the room are of color, who are making the big decisions. If you don’t know how a person of color feels coming on the show, you’re not going to be able to accurately portray that on-screen,” Kristin Hopkins, a contestant on Matt’s season, told Women’s Health.
In ABC’s March 13 statement following the announcement about The Bachelorette's new hosts, the Bachelor team promised to prioritize diversifying its production team. “As we continue the dialogue around achieving greater equity and inclusion within The Bachelor franchise, we are dedicated to improving the BIPOC representation of our crew, including among the executive producer ranks,” wrote Warner Horizon and ABC.
“This is just the beginning. Chris afraid-of-the-woke-police Harrison stepping aside for a period of time isn’t enough,” wrote Mikayla Bartholomew and Victoria Price of The Blckchelorettes, a weekly Bachelor Nation podcast. “Is it a step in the right direction? For sure. We need to continue pressing ABC to take a stand. To make it known that racism has no place on their network and furthermore no place on our TV screens.”