Chris Harrison is stepping down as host of The Bachelor - a position he has filled since the show first premiered in 2002 - after a controversial interview last month in which he defended Bachelor contestant Rachael Kirkconnell. In an Extra interview with Rachel Lindsay - an Extra correspondent who previously starred as the first Black Bachelorette - Harrison asked for “compassion” for Kirkconnell, who he described as a “poor girl” who had “just been thrown to the lions.”
“I’m not sure how he was hoping people would react,” said freshman business management major Lily Gomez. “I don’t think he needed to defend that contestant.”
Kirkconnell has come under scrutiny after photos resurfaced of her attending an Old South antebellum-themed party in 2018, and liking social media posts featuring cultural appropriation.
In the Extra interview, Harrison said these types of things were more acceptable in 2018 and argued that people were viewing it from a 2021 lens. “Is it not a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021?” he asked, to which Lindsay replied: “It’s not a good look ever […] If I went to that party, what would I represent?”
“The normalization of this type of behavior by a middle-aged white man in 2021 is not exactly shocking,” wrote Shane Walsh, an African American Studies lecturer at the University of Maryland who is also an “avid viewer” of The Bachelor, in an emailed statement. Walsh described the Extra interview as “horrific” and wrote that Harrison’s behavior provides “a lens for how many in the US still don’t comprehend the depths of its connectivity to the past and current reality in which Black Americans inhabit.”
“I think Chris should have minded his business on the topic or at least steered clear of commenting on it,” said sophomore business information systems major and pre-med student Darian Brown. “When Rachel, a Black woman, tried to explain why it was wrong, he shot her down [...] That’s his privilege showing.”
On Feb. 10, Harrison took to Instagram to apologize, writing: “I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology.” He also wrote: “yesterday, I took a stance on topics about which I should have been better informed” and apologized to Lindsay for “not listening to her better on a topic she has a first-hand understanding of.”
Kirkconnell had not spoken out about the controversy at the time of Harrison’s Extra interview, but has since denounced her behavior. In a Feb. 11 Instagram post, she wrote: “At one point, I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them” and “I deserve to be held accountable for my actions.”
Two days later, Harrison took to Instagram again to announce that he would be “stepping aside for a period of time” and that he was “dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before.”
This controversy came during a historic season of The Bachelor. The most recent season features Matt James as the lead, the first Black man to ever fill this role. On Feb. 22, James took to Instagram to share his thoughts on the matter, writing that the resurfaced photos of Kirkconnell were “incredibly disappointing” and that learning about the situation has been “devastating and heartbreaking.”
James went on to write: “Chris’ 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.” It is unclear how long Harrison intends to step away from the franchise, and numerous news sites report that former NFL linebacker and author of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black ManEmmanuel Acho will step in as host for the “After the Final Rose” episode of The Bachelor.