‘The Bachelor’ Franchise & White Accountability: The Rachael Kirkconnell Controversy

Maggie Connolly ’21

Opinions Editor

‘The Bachelor’ series on ABC has faced criticisms for years of their lack of inclusivity, especially when it comes to race. This season, the show promptly announced their first Black Bachelor, Matt James, amidst the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer. They also replaced Clare Crawley with Tayshia Adams in her season of ‘The Bachelorette’ after Clare’s speedy engagement. Tayshia was only the second Black Bachelorette after Rachel Lindsay in 2017. ‘The Bachelor’ franchise has been around since the first season of ‘The Bachelor’ in 2002.

This season saw the most racially diverse group of women in the history of the show accompanying the franchise’s first Black Bachelor. The photo of the women standing around Matt James got a lot of traction, and socially conscious fans of the show were thrilled with the outcome of the season before it even began. That is, until Rachael Kirkconnell started to get a bit more airtime.

Even before the first episode, Rachel was flagged as controversial. Rumors were circulating on Tik Tok about her making fun of one of her peers in high schools for liking Black men. From there, more information surfaced about her liking racist, confederate-flag adorned posts on Instagram, her family members donating to pro-Trump PACs, and culturally appropriative costumes just to name a few things. The final straw for many fans were photos of Rachel at an Antebellum South themed fraternity party in 2018.

Chris Harrison, the host and face of ‘The Bachelor’ franchise spoke to Rachel Lindsay, who is known for calling out racism and having conversations about social issues surrounding the shows within the franchise about Rachael’s history. Chris Harrison defended Rachael saying, among many things, “Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference,” he said on Lindsay’s talk show, “Where is this lens we’re holding up and was this lens available, and were we all looking through it in 2018?” 

Harrison’s comments have rightfully received backlash and he released a statement apologizing and is stepping back from his role. Ultimately, Harrison’s missteps were in excusing Rachael’s actions. He expressed sentiments that she was being “cancelled” in the same way politicians have griped about being “cancelled” for their actions. He also asked audience members to “have grace” for Rachael in the situation.

None of Harrison’s training in media and hosting seemed to prepare him to say one thing: “It was racist.” What Rachael did and posted was racist. Can she grow and change? Absolutely. But there is no way to grow without first being held accountable for participating in a fraternity party that used a theme to glorify and emphasize a culture that promoted slavery.

Although the controversy may seem small or superficial to many because of its association with reality television, it represents a larger issue within society that so many are willing to ignore because it is not an injustice being done by politicians, police officers, or general legislation. However, ignoring or excusing these micro and macro aggressions the way Chris Harrison did can be just as dangerous and damaging to the way we treat BIPOC, specifically Black people, in this country.

I have heard countless people say, “It’s not that big of a deal.” Even if this is the first you are hearing of the situation, you might still be questioning why this matters. Having this culture of toxic excuse and exception for what some might consider ‘minor’ offenses several years ago because ‘things are different now’ is inherently perpetuating a culture of casual racism in our society. It is not the role of white people who watch the show to determine whether or not Rachael’s actions or Chris’s excuses are a ‘big deal.’ The women of color within the franchise, including Rachel Lindsay and Tayshia Adams, have spoken up and decided that to them, this does matter and to them, this represents a larger issue of racist culture within the show. Therefore, it is the responsibility of white people to listen to their experiences and understand that there is a problem here, even if it does not offend us.

The conversation surrounding Rachael’s actions now includes criticisms of cancel culture. Think for a second – is Chris Harrison really cancelled? He is heading home to what is most likely a million-dollar mansion, had years of being a successful host of several shows that he has not fully parted ways with, and has written multiple books that still give him passive income. Chris Harrison is going to be fine; he is just being held accountable. The same thing is happening with Rachel, who issued an apology on Instagram stating that she should be held accountable for her actions.

Neither of these public figures are getting cancelled for what they said or did. They are being held publicly accountable for racism. It is not far-fetched to say that this could happen to many white people, white people at Holy Cross, white people at schools with massive Greek-life organizations that hold racially insensitive themed parties. 

That is why so many people sympathize with white women like Rachael Kirkconnell, because many of us, me included, have made similar decisions. We have gone to similar parties, and maybe we would have not thought twice about it three or four years ago. We deserve to be held accountable for those actions and choices, because it was our ignorance that led to them. Rachael is far from cancelled, especially if she has made it this far in a season of ‘The Bachelor.’ Instead, she, like many other white women, have been called into a conversation about their actions, and about racism as it operates closer to home in ways, we as white women have not even begun to realize, despite how far we think we have come.

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