OPINION | “The Bachelor” must address its own racism

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

The bachelor cast photo
Courtesy of ABC’s The Bachelor

When Matt James was cast as the star of “The Bachelor,” he made history as the first Black man ever chosen for the position. As a show that has faced serious allegations of racism and discrimination, James’ casting signaled that the franchise was making efforts to address their issues. Over the weeks, however, it became clear that this season was not going to involve any sort of reckoning with racism. Rather, it highlighted how deeply ingrained racism is within the show.

Weeks into the season, images of one of the contestants, Rachael Kirkconnell, attending an “Old South” themed party surfaced, sparking serious controversy. In addition to the resurfaced images, several people took to social media to talk about their racist experiences with Kirkconnell. For example, one TikTok user claimed that Kirkconnell bullied her in high school for liking Black men

As discussions about race and “The Bachelor” continued, the show’s longtime host, Chris Harrison, gave an interview with former bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay. He came to the defense of Kirkconnell, claiming that people were unfairly attacking her. Following backlash, Harrison posted on Instagram to express his remorse and announced that he would be temporarily stepping away from the show. It has since been announced that he will be replaced on the upcoming season of “The Bachelorette” by former stars Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe. To many, Harrison’s name is synonymous with the franchise itself and his absence means the end of an era. In the grand scheme of the franchise, however, Harrison’s behavior was a reflection of how deep issues of racism run through the show. Harrison has always been a large presence in the franchise, and as such, his actions don’t reflect simply on himself, but on the show as a whole.  

The problems with “The Bachelor” franchise are not new but they have certainly been ignored for far too long. Lindsay, the first Black bachelorette, has been calling out racism in the franchise since she appeared on season 13.  She has also been the target of severe bullying, often racially charged, by the franchise’s fans. These attacks have only worsened since her interview with Harrison. Lindsay has since announced that she plans to cut ties with the franchise after this season’s controversies. 

Lindsay is far from alone in this harassment. In the wake of the various controversies plaguing this season, several contestants of color have come forward to share their experiences. Many of them recall feeling uncomfortable on the show and reveal that other contestants frequently said stereotypical and racist comments to them. In hindsight, there is no reason to be surprised by the revelations of racism and discrimination on the show. “The Bachelor” is, after all, a reality series intended to reflect the state of society, and in the most unfortunate manner, the show is a devastatingly accurate representation of America’s racial politics. 

Kirkconnell went on to win the show though she and James broke up after he learned about her behavior. Reflecting on his season, James said that he felt frustrated about his position within the franchise and the obligation he felt to educate those around him. He also expressed hope that both individuals like Kirkconnell and the franchise as a whole could change.  

If audiences have learned anything from this season of the show it is that we need to actually listen to what contestants of color have been telling us for so long: the franchise must change. That means not only does the franchise need to improve on casting to exclude problematic individuals, but also means they need to actively engage in conversations of race and political dynamics. 

The media that we consume plays a huge role in the way we view the world, and consequently, such content needs to appropriately represent the narratives of marginalized communities while actively rejecting systems of oppression. “The Bachelor” franchise has long failed people of color and it’s time to start genuinely working to remedy these faults.