The host of “The Bachelor,” Chris Harrison, announced this weekend that he was stepping aside “for a period of time” following accusations that he perpetuated racism when he asked that an embattled contestant be given “grace” and an opportunity to explain an allegedly racist photo.
“This historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions,” Harrison said in a statement, noting that this is the first season of the long-running reality program to feature a black contestant, bachelor Matt James. “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 found himself under fire last week after suggesting, in an interview with “Extra,” the entertainment news program, that the top contender for James’ engagement ring, Rachael Kirkconnell, deserved the opportunity to explain why she was pictured at an “antebellum”-themed fraternity formal in 2018, dressed as a pre-Civil War southern belle.
“The photo apparently gave rise to a full-fledged investigation into Kirkconnell’s background, conducted largely by social media sleuths, that turned up an unverified allegation that she’d shamed a former acquaintance for dating black men, and evidence that Kirkconnell’s parents voted for Donald Trump (the internet detectives sought Kirkconnell’s voting record but, it seems, could not find it),” The Daily Wire reported last week.
In the interview, Harrison decried cancel culture, begging fans of The Bachelor not to act as “judge, jury, and executioner,” and give Kirkconnell, “a little grace, a little understanding,” and allow her to explain the photo and, potentially, apologize.
“I haven’t talked to Rachael about it,” Harrison told Extra. “We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion. 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,” he said.
The interview gave rise to an outcry, with Harrison accused of “perpetuating racism.” A Change.org petition popped up late last week, demanding Harrison be fired from the television franchise over his “history of misogyny and racist behavior and racist-sympathizing behavior.”
Harrison issued a lengthy apology to Twitter, saying that, “[w]hile I do not speak for Rachel Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf. What I now realize I have done is cause harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism, and for that, I am so deeply sorry.”
The apology was not enough, it seems, and on Saturday, Harrison announced he’d be departing the show, at least temporarily. His statement included a more detailed apology. Harrison said he was “‘deeply remorseful’ for the pain and damage his ‘ignorance’ had brought to his ‘friends, colleagues, and strangers alike,'” per CNN.
He added that he is now committed to a “path of anti-racism.”
“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,” Harrison wrote in his statement. “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.”
For her part, Kirkconnell did explain the photo and offered her own lengthy apology, saying, in a statement that “her ignorance was racist” and adding that she “didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them.” She added that she was “ashamed” of her “lack of education” on the subject.
“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,” she said.
Harrison did not say whether he would return to the Bachelor franchise. Kirkconnell remains the top contender for James’ final rose.