Feb 19, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma McDermott | Illustration by Xixi Qin

Former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, who was the first Black lead in Bachelor Franchise history, spoke with the host of the Bachelor Franchise, Chris Harrison, in an interview that rocked the world of reality television.

During the interview, which aired on Feb. 10, Lindsay and Harrison discussed racist behaviors perpetrated by Rachael Kirkconnell, one of the contestants on Matt James’ season of The Bachelor, which is currently airing. Lindsay, just as any good interviewer would, pressed Harrison about some of the comments he made in defense of Kirkconnell’s actions.

Harrison asked that people “have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion,” and appeared to defend Kirkconnell’s attendance of an Old South Antebellum themed fraternity party in college. These comments garnered fierce backlash from Bachelor Nation, with thousands of fans demanding that ABC fire him. Harrison has since decided to take a step back and will not appear in episodes not already filmed for the foreseeable future.

One of the areas of disagreement between Lindsay and Harrison was about what Kirkconnell’s presence at an Antebellum party represented. On this issue, Harrison argued “Is it a good look in 2018? Or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference,” to which Lindsay responded the photos are “not a good look ever.”

In my personal interpretation of this exchange, Harrison most certainly came across as excusing Kirkconnell’s presence at said event, something for which he has since rightly apologized for. However, I also believe that his comments came from a place of genuine concern for Kirkconnell and a hesitancy to make her out to be this evil person for attending what, in her mind, was just a social event.

Harrison made the case that attending Old South parties, especially in 2018 when the events of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rallies had been excused by the former president just a year earlier, was not that abnormal and that he could imagine how the symbolism of attending such an event easily could have not crossed Kirkconnell’s mind at the time.

Harrison also drew a distinction between what was acceptable in 2018 and what is acceptable in 2021. I understood this comment not as an excuse for attending an Old South event but as his way of reminding people that there has been much social change in the U.S. –– especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder –– and we should be cautious of holding Kirkconnell to a standard that she might not have even recognized.

Kirkconnell has apologized to Bachelor Nation and the rest of her co-stars on the show, which is significant because this is the most racially diverse cast in the history of the franchise. She explains that all of her actions were done out of ignorance –– and that her ignorance is not an excuse –– but that she was unaware of the incredibly hurtful effects of her behavior. She has not had the chance to speak on national television about it just yet, but fans of The Bachelor can expect to hear about this in the final episode of this season.

The way I see it, Chris Harrison has a lot of learning to do. He should allow people like Rachel Lindsay to speak on these issues because he doesn’t have the firsthand experience required to do so. At the same time, however, I think Harrison was sincerely coming from a place of ignorance on the issues and a reluctance to make some very serious accusations about Kirkconnell.

Accordingly, I don’t think he deserves his career to be ruined by this, and I hope that he –– and the rest of Bachelor Nation, which is a group of people that relishes drama and gossip –– uses this break to further educate himself and return, when the time is right, as a catalyst for positive change.

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