'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.

'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.
Chris Harrison, Matt James, and Ben Higgins on season 25 of "The Bachelor."Craig Sjodin via Getty Images
  • "The Bachelor" franchise has come under fire for comments made by host Chris Harrison.
  • Despite calling for more diversity on the show, Harrison defended a contestant's racist behavior.
  • BIPOC contestants' castings now feel like damage control for a series that's prioritized whiteness.

The interview is excruciatingly awkward to watch.

For nearly 13 minutes, "Bachelor" host Chris Harrison lectured Rachel Lindsay (the franchise's first Black Bachelorette, who's now a correspondent for "Extra") on cancel culture and the "woke police" - all because Lindsay raised some valid points about the allegations "Bachelor" contestant Rachael Kirkconnell is currently facing.

She's just one of the contestants on what was supposed to be a historic season for "The Bachelor," as Matt James is the franchise's first-ever Black star in the reality competition's 19-year history.
But a viral TikTok recently accused Kirkconnell of liking racist or racially-insensitive posts on social media, as well as QAnon conspiracies. There's even a claim that Kirkconnell once bullied a classmate for "liking Black men."

Then pictures surfaced of Kirkconnell attending an "antebellum, plantation-themed" formal in 2018 while an undergraduate at Georgia College and State University. Even her own cousin said the photos were "hard to defend."

When asked by Lindsay if the "Bachelor" franchise had any responsibility to address serious issues like racism, Harrison shockingly said no.

"We are not in the business of dealing with every problem that [viewers] have," he said. "We don't have the time of day."

Harrison's impassioned defense of Kirkconnell shouldn't come as a surprise to any "Bachelor" fan that's been paying attention.While showrunners and producers have prided themselves on casting more diverse leads and contestants of color on the show and its sister series, "The Bachelorette," in recent years, Harrison's response, coupled with the ABC show's problematic history, make it clear that Bachelor Nation isn't actually committed to being antiracist.

"The Bachelor" would rather support a contestant like Kirkconnell than support their contestants of color and reckon with the accusations of racism it's faced throughout the years.

'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.
Matt James and Rachel Kirkconnell on season 25 of "The Bachelor."Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

Harrison's defense of Kirkconnell has fans wondering if she ends up with James, or if she's the new Bachelorette

Harrison's staunch defense of Kirkconnell, which landed him in hot water with fans and led to him "stepping aside" from his duties as host for a period of time, has caused many fans to wonder if there's another reason why he spoke out in support of the controversial contestant.

Does Kirkconnell end up winning James' historic season of "The Bachelor," or is she being eyed by producers as a potential star for the next season of "The Bachelorette?" Details over Kirkconnell's trajectory on James' season are still vague (she recently advanced to the coveted "hometowns" portion of the series where James will visit contestants' families), but Harrison's support could mean that she makes it pretty far.

The franchise has certainly had its share of problematic contestants and racist controversies over the years, but none have garnered the support of Harrison (and, by default, the franchise) quite like Kirkconnell, who has since apologized saying "I was wrong."

Harrison didn't speak out when Lee Garrett, who competed on Lindsay's season in 2017, was accused of tweeting racist and sexist sentiments, and the host kept silent when former "Bachelorette" Hannah Brown was called out last year after singing the N-word during an Instagram live video. And when Demi Burnett, who competed on Colton Underwood's season of "The Bachelor," apologized last week for wearing a jacket with the Confederate flag on it, Harrison didn't defend her.

'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.
Former "Bachelorette" Hannah Brown was called out last year after singing the N-word during an Instagram live video.Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Aside from the more overt instances of racism throughout the years, there's also been plenty of discussion in recent months over the franchise's decision to largely cast white leads and primarily white contestants. Even if a contestant is a person of color, they're usually eliminated in early rounds.
Harrison even admitted to Insider last October that the franchise could "do better" in terms of diversity.

So it's suspect that Harrison, who's also an executive producer on the series, would risk his job and the ire of Bachelor Nation just to defend a random contestant from the "woke police," as he called Kirkconnell's critics.

To publicly support a contestant who's been accused of racism suggests that the franchise sees Kirkconnell, accusations and all, as a valuable addition to Bachelor Nation - either as a finalist in James' season or a contestant in the running for a lead role.

Regardless of his motivations, Harrison's position as the face of "The Bachelor" and its ABC spinoffs means that his support of Kirkconnell can't be overlooked. Like it or not, the franchise just made it abundantly clear that they have trouble denouncing racism and bigotry.

'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.
Rachel Lindsay was the franchise's first Black bachelorette.Randy Holmes via Getty Images

In recent years, the franchise has tried to diversify their casts - but there's still lots of antiracist work that needs to be done

The lack of diversity on the show has been frequently called out by both critics and fans throughout the seasons. It even led to a class action lawsuit in 2012.While the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, the franchise seemingly made an effort to include more diverse contestants on the show, starting with Lindsay in 2017. After a petition urging the franchise to "honor the racial diversity of our country - both in front of and behind the camera" went viral in the wake of the George Floyd protests last year, ABC announced James' casting.

"We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we're seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in," ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke said in a statement at the time.

And in an interview with Insider in October, Harrison agreed.

"You want to see your love represented on screen and to not do that is a failure," he told Insider's Anneta Konstantinides. "And that's something we aim to be better at and do better at."

Casting Lindsay, James, and Tayshia Adams (who took over as Bachelorette on the show's most recent season, following Clare Crawley's departure) as leads - in addition to including other BIPOC contestants - is certainly a step in the right direction.

'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.
Tayshia Adams, who identifies as mixed-race, was cast to replace Clare Crawley after she abruptly left the last season of "The Bachelorette."John Fleenor via Getty Images

But the timing of James' long-overdue casting seems like a knee-jerk reaction to the current reckoning about race, and not a genuine desire to amplify BIPOC voices.

Rather than taking a step back and examining their casting practices and complicity in upholding white supremacy, "The Bachelor" seems more comfortable putting a few BIPOC in front of the camera and calling it a day, without offering them adequate support or even ensuring that filming will provide safe spaces against racism. (For example, producers continuously feature cast members who later become embroiled in racist controversies.)
Given the controversial white contestants that pop up nearly every season, including Garrett and Garret Yrigoyen, who won Becca Kufrin's season of "The Bachelorette" and was accused of liking Instagram posts mocking immigrants, the franchise doesn't seem fully committed to creating an equitable, antiracist environment. Their pledges to "do better" are merely lip service.

And Harrison's defense of Kirkconnell only furthers the idea that "The Bachelor" is more interested in performing "wokeness" than in becoming a genuinely antiracist franchise.

'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.
Matt James and the contestants on season 25 of "The Bachelor."ABC

Casting BIPOC contestants feels like damage control for 'The Bachelor'

The backlash against both Harrison and the franchise shows that viewers are ready for a change.

Along with a Change.org petition created by fans after Harrison's remarks, numerous women from James' season (which is still airing on Monday nights) posted a message, writing they were "deeply disappointed" in the recent controversy.

A post shared by Chelsea Vaughn (@chelseavaughn_)

Attitudes towards race have shifted quite a bit in the two decades the show has been on the air. During the show's early years, it was already unacceptable to feature an all-white cast with a white lead. Now, the franchise's tendency to center whiteness has become even more problematic.Harrison's defense of Kirkconnell is just the latest indicator of the franchise's untenable views on race. For while they say they've committed to casting diverse leads and representing a wide variety of "love stories," their efforts to support BIPOC contestants and stories in front of and behind the camera haven't been successful.

And race is just one issue the show has been forced to reckon with in recent years. There's also the issue of religious diversity in the franchise, which has primarily featured Christian contestants and leads, as well as sexuality. (Burnett is one of the few contestants who's been open about her queer identity while on the show.)

'The Bachelor' has a race problem. A diverse cast isn't going to fix that.
In Sean Lowe's season of "The Bachelor," mostly white contestants were cast.Craig Sjodin/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Part of "The Bachelor's" appeal for many viewers is the idea that true love is out there - you just have to find it. And in recent years, the franchise has attempted to portray itself as a place where anyone and everyone can potentially find their soulmate, if they're doing it for the right reasons.

But clearly, BIPOC are at a continued disadvantage despite what producers and executives might say about wanting more diverse cast members. Instead of being valued members of the franchise, BIPOC contestants are little more than damage control for a series that's made whiteness a priority.

Lindsay put it this way while speaking to Time about her experience as the first black Bachelorette: "The show does not understand people of color. Period."