This was The Bachelor’s 25th season that featured the first Black bachelor and a lead who was completely new to Bachelor Nation. Matt James is an incredibly handsome, former NFL wide receiver and businessman from North Carolina looking for the type of romantic love that would last a lifetime. While the excitement and intrigue were real–especially during this pandemic–issues surrounding racial insensitivity and horrific bullying overshadowed the season, and it was truly a topic of conversation.
“People want you to end up with a certain person. And I get that.”
For many viewers of color–especially Black women–what truly set the tone and even foreshadowed the season’s awkward ending began with a quick conversation and moment between Matt James and the host of ‘The Bachelor’s Chris Harrison. Matt literally pulled Chris Harrison aside and explained the pressures of choosing a certain type of individual. While sentiments were shared with Matt regarding societal pressures and his biracial identity, other viewers felt that his message was a PSA to Black viewers that he will not be choosing a Black woman; that a Black couple wouldn’t happen. Although this seemed like a reach of a conclusion to some, this became the elephant in the room and did not age well as the season went on.
The Rachael Kirkconnell Situation
So the biggest controversy that swept the nation deals with 24-year-old graphic designer and contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, in which a 2018 photo of the graphic designer at an Old South Antebellum themed party was leaked and resurfaced the internet after the filming of the show. For those who aren’t familiar, Antebellum themed parties are associated with the fraternity organization Kappa Alpha and have been banned since 2016. Not to mention the term Antebellum means “before the [civil] war,”; a war that abolished slavery.
“Well Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021”
With the photo floating around social media, a slew of other allegations of racism and bullying started to emerge on the internet, and Rachael’s past was all anyone could talk about. You would think the fact her not speaking up made matters worst, but it was an Extra interview between Chris Harrison and Bachelor/Bachelorette alum Rachel Lindsay (the first Black Bachelorette <3) that stirred the pot.
The unedited, raw conversation between the two helped shed light on the dismissiveness of racial insensitivity and racism, as Chris Harrison threw phrases around like “woke police” and completely justified Rachael’s behavior. If you have not seen the interview, please watch it here!! Harrison built a case for Rachael Kirkconnell and urged people to show compassion and grace towards her and that, before 2020, 2018 was a different time. That we looked through a different lens then, his neglect to show compassion to Black Americans everywhere, however, and his friend Rachel Lindsay was quite astronomical.
The best part of the interview was Rachel Lindsay’s silence. Not because she didn’t stand up for herself (because she is a lawyer; she would have had him all the way together, let’s be honest), but because she let him say exactly how he felt to showcase how a lot of white people in the U.S. probably thought about the situation. That it was no big deal. Basically thinking, ‘who cares?’. My favorite line in the interview was when Rachel Lindsay said, “If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?”.
Black representation, especially Black femme representation on dating shows, has always been poor and detrimental. The severe bullying amongst this season, led mainly by contestant Victoria Larson, dominated our screens as white contestant Katie Thurston became the hero to The Bachelor audience. The show edited out three dates, positive conversations between women, and other meaningful conversations that would’ve been incredible to watch. Contestants like Chelsea Vaughn and her story with natural hair weren’t explored as much, and the other Black women on the show were barely seen and made to feel unmemorable. Not to mention, the Black absentee father trope was perpetuated throughout the season, and, honestly, I was shook that this was all happening at once. What hit was what wasn’t seen and heard versus what everyone was witnessing and tuning in to.
Emmanuel Acho & Accountability Vs. Cancel Culture
So here comes that foreshadow from the beginning of the episode. At the end of it all, Matt proposed to Rachael. Not very shocking if you watched the season. What was shocking, though, is that Matt has broken things off with her amidst all the internet debate.
Rachael Kirkconnel has since apologized and addressed the photos on her social media outlets and the last episode of the season with former Nigerian-American NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho; Acho is widely known for his YouTube series ‘Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.’ After the whole Extra interview between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison, Harrison temporarily stepped down by posting a message on his Instagram due to the controversy, and Acho was chosen to host the finale.
While a lot was going on with the very last episode–contestant Bri Springs being cut from the episode, Matt’s long, awkward pause with Rachael, etc.–it was Acho’s proclamation of accountability that stood out to me. That we should never cancel an individual but hold someone accountable. In today’s society, authenticity and accountability are hard to find, in which performance and deflection are a route people often take.
What did you think of Matt James as The Bachelor? Do you think any conversation that came from this season was helpful or beneficial to anyone? Should Chris Harrison come back? How should we hold people accountable and is cancel culture toxic? How did you feel Matt and the Black women on the show were represented? Tell me all your thoughts below and don’t hold back!
Marian Haile is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. A literature graduate, she believes that storytelling and analyzing history can assist in developing an understanding of those around us and ourselves. You can follow her Instagram @marianhaile.