March 19, 2021 | 9:44pm EDT
This year, The Bachelor has taken one blow after another in the wake of racist incidents from a contestant, just as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum this past summer. The show has received a lot of backlash, but this isn’t the first time racist incidents and remarks have happened in The Bachelor franchise. In fact, they’re common, and happen implicitly every season.
This season, the popular show had its first Black bachelor, Matt James. Toward the middle of the season, photos of one of the contestants, Rachael Kirkconnell, attending an Antebellum themed fraternity formal went viral, as well as posts on social media that she had liked discussing the confederate flag and pro-Trump sentiments.
After days of no response from the production team or Kirkconnell, Chris Harrison, the show’s host, went on a podcast with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, where he said that, “We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion. Because I have seen some stuff online — this judge, jury, executioner thing where people are just tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into, like, her parents, her parents’ voting record,” Harrison said at the time. “I haven’t heard Rachael speak on this yet. Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this?”
Essentially, Harrison said that the audience should listen to Kirkconnell’s side of the story, and not criticize her actions before hearing what she has to say. This received lots of backlash from The Bachelor fanbase and from the general public, and from Rachel Lindsay. Harrison apologized for his comments the next day, and a few days later, announced he was stepping down as host of The Bachelor because of the incident. Kirkconnell also issued an apology, and it was also revealed that she was Matt James’s final pick, but they broke up because of the racist incidents from her past.
This is the first time a contestant with a past of racial insensitivity has been criticized the way Kirkconnell has, even prompting Harrison to step down based on his comments on the situation. That doesn’t mean that contestants haven’t been racially insensitive in the past.
In 2018, on Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette, Garrett Yrigoyen, her final pick, was criticized for liking racist posts on Twitter. Garrett defended himself, as did Becca. Now, in 2021 however, following the height of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, things like this don’t just slide by anymore--but it doesn’t mean that anything that happened before way okay, either.
From 2009 to 2012, there were no Black contestants on any of the franchise’s shows. With the few Black contestants there have been since then, many of them are villainized. Taylor Nolan, who is half-Black, was on The Bachelor in 2017, and was pitted against the show’s white villain, Corinne Olympios. With their feud, Nolan was villainized as well for talking down to Olympios.
Following the show, Nolan said that, “I was essentially given this storyline and this perception from fans and from Corrine who narrated all of it, that I thought I was so much better than everybody else. I was condescending, that I was mean, that I was a bully, that I was angry, essentially...a version of an angry-Black-girl edit basically.”
While Taylor Nolan was painted as an angry-Black girl, perpetuating an age-old trope, other Black women on the show were made to feel out of place, and felt they were only there to fulfill an invisible quota.
Jubilee Sharpe, who was on Ben Higgins’s season in 2015, she felt that she was only being kept on the show because she was Black-- she could tell Ben just wasn’t into her. He was giving her attention, but not attention that felt good.
“I felt like a zoo animal,” Sharpe said. “I felt like an exotic zoo animal … I wasn’t like all the other animals in the zoo, so people who would ooh and aah at me, but it wasn’t... it’s fascination, like I’m the unknown.”
Sharpe’s time on The Bachelor was filled with microaggressions -- comments that she wouldn’t fit in with “soccer moms” because of her race, being called “intriguing” rather than beautiful, and more.
The Bachelor has always had a problem with race -- whether it be tokenizing, ignoring racist behavior, or just not enough representation. And they haven’t been forced to deal with the consequences of it until now on Matt James’s season. In our changing world, things that used to slide by viewers are now at the forefront of their thoughts. While it has hurt the franchise and contestants, this change is necessary for a show that has hurt so many people for such a long time.