The Bachelor’s racism doesn’t end with Chris Harrison

The franchise will have to do more than replace its host to move forward

ABC’s franchise must commit to becoming actively anti-racist.
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After 19 years of hosting ABC’s The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise, Chris Harrison is stepping aside. It’s unknown when or if he will return.

This announcement comes shortly after the former host made racist comments in an interview with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay. Lindsay was the franchise’s Bachelorette in 2017 and has since become a television and radio personality.

In the interview with Harrison, Lindsay raised concerns about the racist actions of current Bachelor contestant Racheal Kirkconnell. Kirkconnell had participated in an antebellum themed party at a plantation back in 2018, among other racist behaviours. Harrison offered up offensive comments as a rebuttal, including claiming that Kirkconnell’s actions should be excused because they took place in 2018 and spoke disparagingly of what he called the woke police.”

Harrison faced swift backlash online following the interview. Criticism of Harrison’s defence of racism came from countless former and current contestants, including Kirkconnell herself, who apologized for her actions on Instagram and has asked fans not to defend her. 

To some, Harrison’s words may have come as a shock. Despite years of the Bachelor franchise being shockingly white, it has spent the last few years slowly committing to more diverse casting. This year’s Bachelor season features Matt James, the first Black Bachelor.

However, if you’ve been paying attention to the franchise’s attempts to diversify, it’s clear where they’ve come from. The Bachelor’s new commitment to diverse casting didn’t originate from the production team, which has also been called out for being largely white—these changes were caused by the persistence of Bachelor fans, particularly people of colour, who were tired of watching exclusively white love stories.

The Bachelor Diversity Campaign, an anti-racism campaign started by fans, advocated for many changes to the franchise, including calling for The Bachelor to cast a Black Bachelor for Season 25 and to cast BIPOC for at least 35 per cent of contestants going forward. The petition launched by the campaign in the summer of 2020 has amassed over 150,000 signatures.

Although The Bachelor and ABC have refrained from publicly commenting on the Bachelor Diversity Campaign, some of what was called for has been addressed; James’ Bachelor season has been boasted as the most diverse season ever.

However, it should be noted that the season also had the most contestants ever; some viewers have interpreted this as The Bachelor implying that the show was willing to include more people of colour but was unwilling to lessen the number of white contestants in order to do so. The show, however, claims the high volume of contestants was simply because a record number of women wanted to date James.

Harrison’s comments were racist, and ABC made the right call to remove him from the franchise. However, replacing him is not going to solve the show’s 19-year history of racism. The Bachelor has repeatedly come under fire for not caring about the well-being of their contestants, opting instead to put them in situations that are as dramatic as possible.

Kirkconnell’s place on the show implies that The Bachelor either made no effort to look into the past of its contestants, or the showrunners simply didn’t care. Racism was used as a plot point between contestants during Lindsay’s Bachelorette season in 2017, and viewers have been given no indication that ABC won’t use that storyline again.

The Bachelor’s willingness to include those with racist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted beliefs on their programs show how little they care about the wellbeing of both their contestants and viewers. Viewers could grow to love a contestant and feel betrayed and violated upon finding out that contestant’s views directly oppose their identity; other contestants, Bachelors, and Bachelorettes could face discrimination, emotional harm, or even be put in danger by discriminatory peers.

Of course, the blame for the Bachelor franchise’s racism doesn’t fall only on its shows. Since the interview with Harrison, Lindsay has deleted all of her social media platforms because of harassment she has received from some of the Bachelor franchise’s dedicated fanbase. Some former contestants have also defended Harrison, blaming the backlash on unjust ‘cancel culture.’

There are thousands of white fans who don’t want The Bachelor to change. To move forward, The Bachelor cannot cater to these people, and it must commit to becoming actively anti-racist.

With Harrison gone, The Bachelor is at a turning point. ABC has chosen Emmanuel Acho, former NFL player, author, and current analyst on Fox Sports 1 to host this season’s “After The Final Rose.”

The future of the franchise is currently unclear, but one thing is glaringly obvious: there’s a lot of anti-racism work to be done by ABC and its Bachelor franchise, and Harrison’s removal is only the beginning.

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