Review: ‘The Bachelor’ finale tackles racism, accountability

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“Red rose” by alfaneque is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Alyssa Endres, news correspondent

Intense controversy has recently arisen within “The Bachelor” franchise as one of the contestant’s past actions has come to light. The Season 25 finale of “The Bachelor” aired Monday, March 15 and addressed some of viewers’ burning questions. 

Matt James, 29, is the first Black bachelor ever. He accepted the role in June 2020 after many complained about the lack of diversity within the franchise. Unlike previous bachelors, James was not a contestant on a past season of “The Bachelorette.” He is actually a friend of well-known “The Bachelorette” contestant and fan-favorite, Tyler Cameron. James said he was “shocked” to be offered the role but was “honored” to be the first Black lead in history. 

The season aired in early January and appeared to follow the usual formula with the typical drama that arises between the contestants — until it didn’t. 

Typical conversations about love and romance soon shifted into conversations about existing racism within the franchise itself. This occurred when one of the predicted frontrunners of the season, Rachael Kirkconnell, came under intense scrutiny after pictures of her at a Southern Plantation Antebellum-themed sorority party surfaced on the internet. This scandal occurred during the airing of the show last month, and viewers of the show have continuously talked about it since.

In addition, host Chris Harrison came under intense scrutiny for defending Kirkconnell’s actions in a recent interview with former Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay. When asked by Lindsay about these allegations, Harrison posed the question: “Well, is it not a good look in 2018, Rachel? Or is it not a good look in 2021?” Lindsay, the first Black bachelorette, and interviewer, said, “It’s not a good look, ever.”

The interview, along with Harrison’s comments, sent shockwaves through Bachelor Nation. Since Harrison is viewed as the face of the franchise, many believe he had a greater responsibility to highlight Kirkconnell’s insensitive acts — not defend them. While some think Harrison was merely trying to denounce cancel culture, others think that he was tone deaf and missing the point of the conversation. 

In response to the backlash he received after this comment in the interview, Harrison decided to take a step back from the show in order to further “educate” himself on why his comments came off as racially insensitive. EvenJames said in a podcast interview that he thought Harrison was “living in an alternate reality,” but that people should not be trying to cancel him. 

“We should be calling him in to do that work that he outlined and wants to do,” James said.

This is a less severe stance than others within Bachelor Nation who have called for the removal of Chris Harrison from the franchise altogether. Although he will not be hosting the next season of “The Bachelorette,” it is likely that Harrison will return the show after he has further educated himself on the topics of racism and racial insensitivity. 

With that, Emmanuel Acho, known for his YouTube show, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” hosted the “After the Final Rose” special in Harrison’s place. Acho was offered the role of hosting the special in order to facilitate the difficult conversations between Kirkconnell and James about her past racially ignorant behavior. Acho’s experiences as a Black man in the United States allowed him to give more insight and ask more relevant questions than Harrison would be able to in regards to Kirkconnell’s controversy. 

The show ended with Kirkconnell and James planning on pursuing their relationship after the show, without an engagement. However, it was later revealed during the “After the Final Rose” segment that James ended things with Kirkconnell after he found out about her racially insensitive actions sometime back in February. 

“I think you have to do that work on your own, and that’s why we can’t be in a relationship,” he said.

Acho also had a conversation with Kirkconnell about the Antebellum-themed sorority party she attended in 2018 and why it was so harmful for people to see. The discussion ended with Kirkconnell vowing to do better in the future: continuing to educate herself on the history of racism in this country and how to be an ally to the Black community. This conversation was one that normal viewers of the show have not experienced watching on this platform.

In a “Good Morning America” interview with Michael Strahan the morning after the finale aired, James said that the finale hit like a ton of bricks. 

“I felt the weight of everything I was carrying throughout the season and with what we were dealing with as a country … and having to explain that and why it was problematic to me and our relationship  …  was extremely difficult,” James said.

This past season was one like no other, with critical discussions about race and efforts by members of the franchise to take accountability for their past actions. Conversations about racism and racial insensitivity from contestants have never existed before on this show to this extent. In a way, it is a reflection of people becoming more culturally aware of discrimination and, perhaps, their own ignorance. It also leaves the door open for more conversations like this to be held on mainstream shows like “The Bachelor,” instead of casting these issues under the rug. 

It is important that the members of the franchise who made mistakes are held accountable in order to learn from them and mature. However, with “cancel culture” prominent in today’s society, it is difficult to determine whether or not Harrison or Kirkconnell will be able to come back from their insensitive actions to demonstrate their personal growth. 

Moving forward, the franchise is actively working on becoming more inclusive, naming runner-up contestant Michelle Young, a biracial woman, to be one of the next Bachelorettes. It is likely that “The Bachelor” feels an urgency and duty to include more people of color on their show and to continue to broaden their audience after the events that took place this past season.