A controversy over racist behavior that’s been building up momentum within The Bachelor community for weeks now has just reached an unexpected peak, as host Chris Harrison—who’s been the face of the reality dating franchise since it first began airing back in 2002—announced that he’ll be “stepping aside” from the series for a “period of time” after giving an interview in which he accused critics of contestant Rachel Kirkconnell of being in the “woke police.” Kirkconnell has been criticized, both inside and outside the franchise, for pictures taken of her in 2018, during which she participated in an “Old South” party at her college that invoked the imagery of plantation life in the Antebellum South. Kirkconnell has since apologized for the photos and her participation in the event where they were taken, re-promoting on social media a letter signed by 25 Black, Indigenous, or people of color from the show’s current group of contestants, which states, unequivocally, “We denounce any defense of racism.”
Said defense of racism was, implicitly, Harrison’s, after the host gave a controversial interview on Tuesday to Extra’s Rachel Lindsay—also, as it happens, the very first Black woman to star in a season of The Bachelorette, a mere 14 years into the show’s existence. Although Harrison framed his statements in a defense of Kirkconnell (who had yet to speak publicly on the topic at the time), he also suggested that not dressing like someone who owned slaves, just for fun, was a brand new idea invented during the #BlackLivesMatter protests in 2020, and not a long-running problem in the ongoing (and literal) white-washing of American history. “These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time. They were 18 years old,” Harrison said at the time. (Per Newsday, Kirkconnell was reportedly at least 21 when the photos were taken.) “Now, does that make it OK? 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?” Lindsay, both a fan of the franchise, and a long-time critic of its handling of BIPOC contestants and issues, immediately fired back with “It’s not a good look ever”; she also pointedly asked Harrison “If I went to that party, what would I represent?” (Harrison’s response: “You’re 100 percent right…in 2021.”)
Although pretty passionate about his views on Tuesday night, Harrison changed his tune abruptly later in the week, issuing an apology in which he apologized to “Bachelor Nation,” and Lindsay in specific:
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. I also apologize to my friend Rachel Lindsay for not listening to her better on a topic she has a first-hand understanding of, and humbly thank the members of Bachelor Nation who have reached out to me to hold me accountable. I promise to do better.
Today, though, Harrison took an even further step, making an Instagram post in which he stated that “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.”
Furthermore, he then announced that he would be leaving the series for that aforementioned “period of time,” and would not be participating in the season’s traditional After The Final Rose finale special. Of course, the devil’s in the details here: A “period of time” is a pretty vague unit, and Harrison’s comments about not wanting to “overshadow” a season of The Bachelor that’s made a point of including more BIPOC women than ever as candidates suggests that the hiatus could be as short as this single special. (The current season of The Bachelor has, obviously, already been filmed; it’s not clear if editors will try to excise Harrison from all that footage, although that sounds fairly unlikely given that Week 6 of the current run of shows airs two days from when Harrison’s announcement went live.)