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Chris Harrison, long-time host of The Bachelor, is "stepping aside" from the television franchise after apologizing for defending contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who was accused of racism.
"I have spent the last few days listening to the pain my words have caused, and I am deeply remorseful," the 49-year-old host wrote on Instagram Saturday. "My ignorance did damage to my friends, colleagues and strangers alike. I have no one to blame but myself for what I said and the way I spoke. I set standards for myself, and have not met them. I feel that with every fiber of my being. Now, just as I taught my children to stand up, and to own their actions, I will do the same."
He continued, "By excusing historical racism, I defended it. I invoked the term 'woke police' which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was. I was so wrong."
The scandal began when photos of Kirkconnell, 24, a white contestant on Season 25 of The Bachelor (which stars Matt James, the first Black bachelor in the show's 21-year history), surfaced of her attending a 2018 fraternity party with an antebellum plantation theme, and a TikTok user alleged that Kirkconnell had once bullied her for dating a Black man.
Amid the subsequent backlash, James spoke out in defense of Kirkconnell. “Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people's lives," he told Entertainment Tonight. "So I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will have her time to speak on that.”
Harrison got involved on Tuesday when he told Rachel Lindsay, the franchise's first Black bachelorette in 2017, that he sympathized with Kirkconnell. “We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion," Harrison said during their Extra interview. "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. It's unbelievably alarming to watch this. 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? I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that's it."
When Lindsay commented that the photos weren't "a good look," Harrison replied, “Is it a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021?”
Lindsay pointed out that Kirkconnell was representing the "Old South" to which Harrison replied, “…You’re 100 percent right — in 2021. That was not the case in 2018. Again, I’m not defending Rachael. I just know, I don’t know, 50 million people did that in 2018... that was a type of party that a lot of people went to.” The television host was roasted for his comments, including by Bachelor Nation contestants, and issued an apology for "speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism." Kirkconnell also apologized for her "ignorant" and "racist" actions, in an Instagram post.
On Friday, Lindsay said on her Higher Learning podcast that she had a "love-hate relationship" with the television series. "I’m contractually bound in some ways," she added. "But when it’s up, I am too. I can’t do it anymore."
In his Saturday post, Harrison admitted that his words were harmful to the Black and BIPOC communities. "I am listening and I truly apologize for my ignorance and any pain it caused you," he wrote. "…This historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes. To that end, I have consulted with Warner Bros. and ABC and will be stepping aside for a period of time and will not join for the After The Final Rose special."
Harrison said he would focus on educating himself "on a more profound and productive level than ever before" adding, "From here, I can only try to evolve and be a better man and I humble myself before all of you. I hope I will again live up to the expectations you all rightfully have for me and the expectations I have for myself."
Shortly after Harrison's announcement, his girlfriend and Entertainment Tonight host Lauren Zima spoke out. "What Chris said was wrong and disappointing," she wrote on Instagram. "Defending racism can never happen. Accountability comes first, what's next is learning and growth."
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