Your Guide to the Rachael Kirkconnell Racism Allegations and ‘Bachelor’ Franchise Controversy

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Starr Bowenbank
·14 min read
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Photo credit: Craig Sjodin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Craig Sjodin - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Matt James’s season of The Bachelor went from cute to controversial in the blink of an eye. After multiple allegations about contestant Rachael Kirkconnell attending a Old South antebellum-themed party surfaced online—as well as claims that she bullied people in high school for liking Black men (the irony)—the show and its corresponding fandom were shaken.

Between that cringey Chris Harrison interview (below), Rachael’s apology (below), Matt’s statement (also below), and the contestants from Matt’s season standing together to call it out (you guessed it, below!), this drama is a lot to process. To ease the headache, please use this timeline as a guide. Fasten your seatbelts—it’s a wild one.

January 4, 2021: Season 25 of The Bachelor premieres.

Following the premiere of Matt’s season, TikTok user @maddyybierster (who claims she went to high school with Rachael) posts a video on the app and accuses Rachael of teasing her in the past for liking Black men. “Girlieee, remember when you bullied me in high school for liking black guys???” the video reads, which shows footage of Rachael and Matt chatting with each other on night one.

The video goes viral, and Maddy is messaged by other people claiming they also experienced racist behavior and bullying from Rachael either in high school or college.

January 26, 2021: A TikTok user does a deep dive into Rachael’s social media accounts.

The allegations against Rachael don’t stop at bullying—TikTok user @feministmama comes through with receipts of Rachael’s concerning social media activity. In the video, screenshots allegedly of Rachael’s account show cultural appropriation in photos, Liking posts of Trump-supporting friends wearing MAGA hats, sharing dangerous QAnon theories to her accounts, and more.

February 2, 2021: Matt addresses the allegations against Rachael for the first time...kinda.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Matt says, “I have not spoken to anybody since the show ended, but I would say that you have to be really careful about what you are doing on social media. Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people’s lives. So I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully [Rachael] will have her time to speak on that.”

Matt keeps things very vague and adds, “There’s a lot of stuff going around about the women that were involved in the show. I would just give them a chance to kind of have their piece, whether that is someone who was gone night one or someone who went home last night. Everyone has a story, and I would just be receptive to that.”

February 4, 2021: Pictures emerge of Rachael at an Old South antebellum-themed party.

Spoiler alert: The pictures are pretty bad.

A Reddit thread provides additional detail about these photos and claims Rachael attended the formal at Georgia College & State University, which was hosted by Kappa Alpha Order in 2018—two years after the fraternity’s board of directors nationally canceled it.

Here is the fraternity board’s 2016 statement on banning Old South parties, in full:

“Chapters shall not sponsor functions with the name Old South or functions with any similar name. All functions and activities must be conducted with restraint and dignity and without trappings and symbols that might be misinterpreted and objectionable to the general public. All functions and activities shall be conducted in accordance with the regulations and policies of the institution where each chapter is located.”

February 10, 2021: Chris Harrison defends Rachael in an interview with Rachel Lindsay.

The allegations against Rachael continue to be a hot topic in Bachelor Nation, so former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay organizes an interview via Extra with host Chris Harrison to discuss them.

Chris chooses to go on the defense—he doesn’t agree with viewers of the show calling out Rachael until her side of the story is heard and argues that Rachael was simply having fun at an event.

In his own words:

“I haven’t talked to Rachael about it, and this is where we need to have a little grace...because I have seen some stuff online—this judge, jury, executioner thing—where they’re just tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into her parents and her parents’ voting record. It’s unbelievably alarming to watch this. I haven’t heard Rachael speak on this yet, and 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.

“I’m not defending Rachael—I just know that 50 million people who did that in 2018. That was a type of party that a lot of people went to.

“My guess? These girls got dressed and went to a party and had a great time. They were 18 years old. Does that make it okay? I don’t know, Rachel, you tell me...but where is this lens we’re holding up and was that lens available and were we all looking through it in 2018?’

Chris also argues that The Bachelor franchise is not responsible for making a statement about the matter until Rachael does:

“It’s first on Rachael. I don’t think it is incumbent upon ‘The Bachelor’ franchise to speak out on everything that everyone wants to hear about on social media. We’re not in the business of dealing with every problem that you have. We don’t have the time of day to handle everything that people comes up with on social media. What I do think is interesting is that the show does push these social issues. On the ‘Women Tell All,’ we do get into it. Rachael was not there, but Rachael will have her time to speak and hopefully, I will be there to have that debate with her. I will push her. I will make it uncomfortable. I will try to hold her feet to the fire as much as I can and then you guys can be the judge and the jury...I don’t think the show needs to speak before Rachael does, that’s not fair.”

Meanwhile, Reality Steve says that Rachael is actually being silenced by production and is being told not to say anything publicly.

February 11, 2021: Rachael makes a public apology for the photos and her past actions.

Rachael’s apology says:

“While there have been rumors circulating, there have also been truths that have come to light that I need to address. I hear you, and I’m here to say I was wrong.

“At one point, I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.

“I am sorry to the communities and individuals that my actions harmed and offended. I am ashamed about my lack of education, but it is no one’s responsibility to educate me. I am learning and will continue to learn how to be antiracist, because it’s important to speak up in the moment and not after you’re called out. If you are a person who doesn’t understand the offense in question, I urge you to learn from my mistakes and encourage you to use them as a teachable moment.

“As for my family, I love them and how they raised me to be my own individual. They have always encouraged me to have my own views, opinions, and beliefs.

“As I was thinking about what I wanted to say, I couldn’t help but think about how sick people must be of reading these kinds of statements; how a person didn’t realize the trauma that their actions would inflict on other people. It must get so exhausting. I want to put my energy towards preventing people from making the same offensive mistakes that I made in the first place, and I hope I can prove this to you moving forward.

“Racial progress and unity are impossible without (white) accountability, and I deserve to be held accountable for my actions. I will never grow unless I recognize what I have done is wrong. I don’t think one apology means that I deserve your forgiveness, but rather I hope I can earn your forgiveness through my future actions."

Also on February 11: Matt’s Bachelor contestants step forward.

Michelle Young, a current contestant on Matt James’s season of The Bachelor, posts a statement about the Rachael drama on behalf of the women who have participated (or are currently participating) in season 25.

“We are the women of Bachelor Season 25. Twenty-five women who identify as BIPOC were cast on this historic season that was meant to represent change,” the statement reads. “We are deeply disappointed and want to make it clear that we denounce any defense of racism. Any defense of racist behavior denies the lived and continued experiences of BIPOC individuals. These experiences are not to be exploited or tokenized.”

Photo credit: Instagram
Photo credit: Instagram

The statement continues, “Rachel Lindsay continues to advocate with ‘grace’ from individuals who identify as BIPOC within this franchise. Just because she is the loudest, doesn’t mean she is alone. We stand with her, we hear her, and we advocate for change alongside her.”

February 13, 2021: Chris Harrison announces he’ll be “stepping aside” from The Bachelor franchise.

Chris apologizes for the things he said during his interview with Rachel and writes a lengthy Instagram statement to formally announce his departure.

Read the full statement below:

“I set standards for myself, and have to meet 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. 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.

“To the Black community, to the BIPOC community: I am so sorry. My words were harmful. I am listening, and I truly apologize for my ignorance and any pain it caused you,” he added. “I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the people from these communities who I’ve had enlightening conversations with over the past few days, and I am so grateful to those who have reached out to help me on my path to anti-racism.

“The historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions. 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.

“I want to ensure our cast and crew members, to my friends, colleagues and our fans: this is not just a moment, but a commitment to much greater understanding that I will actively make every day. 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.”

February 15, 2021: Rachel Lindsay speaks out after Chris Harrison ”steps aside.”

Rachel discusses her interview with Chris Harrison on Extra. She says she didn’t necessarily want Chris to be removed but rather wants The Bachelor franchise as a whole to discuss difficult issues instead of trying to sweep them under the rug.

“It was never my intention to see Chris Harrison step aside, but it was my intention for others to hear and see this interview,” she says. “It’s important to further and highlight these types of discussions. The only way to do that is to have these uncomfortable conversations, so we can understand the underlying issues and implicit racism that exists within our society.”

“When we can learn to recognize implicit and unconscious bias that history or our environments have taught us, then we can challenge one another to be better for ourselves but also for this society,” Rachel adds. “Let’s not label, let’s not cancel, but let’s hold people accountable for their actions. Let’s set the example in this generation so that we don’t repeat the horrific mistakes from the past, and so we can unify and be the change that this country needs to make this society better for the next generation.”

February 22, 2021: Matt speaks out again.

Matt releases a new statement in light of Chris’s interview with Rachel, explaining where his head is at right now.

It reads:

“The past few weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life, and while there are several episodes left of the season, it is important that I take the time to address the troubling information that has come to light since we wrapped filming, including the incredibly disappointing photos of Rachael Kirkconnell and the interview between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison. The reality is that I’m learning about these situations in real time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly. Chris’s 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. As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years.

“This moment has sparked critical conversations and reporting, raised important questions, and resulted in inspiring displays of solidarity from The Bachelor nation. It has also pushed me to reevaluate and process what my experience on The Bachelor represents, not just for me, but for all the contestants of color, especially the Black contestants of this season and seasons past, and for you, the viewers at home.

“I will continue to process this experience, and you will hear more from me in the end. My greatest prayer is that this is an inflection point that results in real and institutional change for the better."

February 26, 2021: Rachael asks fans to stop defending her.

Fans of Rachael's can't seem to accept or understand that her attending the Antebellum plantation-themed party was a racist action, with many of them continuing to defend her and claim that she hasn't done anything wrong. This prompts Rachael to post a 7-minute long video to her Instagram to ask her followers to stop taking up for her.

In her statement, via People, Rachael says that she—and other white people—need to take responsibility for their actions, past and present: "I think that the first big step in all of this is white people stepping up and taking accountability. Things will never change if we don't all work together in working towards this racial progress and this unity that we want."

After the pictures came to light, Rachael says that she now understands that she can't be "sitting aside and hiding in the corner and, you know, avoid being called performative — that doesn't help anyone or anything." Furthering her point, Rachael adds that she would like to "use my privilege and my platform, that I so do not deserve, just to shine a light on these issues and try and do what I can to you know take a step in the right direction."

Rachael ends her video with a message to those that are still defending her actions, and says:

"If you are in my comments or defending me anywhere telling people that I did nothing wrong, that there's nothing to be hurt about, there's nothing to be angry about or offended about, please stop. That's not our place to tell people what they can and can't be offended about. That's wrong and that's part of the problem."

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