Tessa Hughes is a journalism junior, KCPR.org editor and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
As always, viewers in Bachelor Nation were promised the “most dramatic season ever” in January with the premiere of “The Bachelor’s” 25th season. Now, this is a phrase used in marketing every season; however, this season had the chance to be the most historic, since Matt James served as the first Black bachelor in franchise history.
Yes. Out of 25 seasons and 18 years, James is the first Black leading man for the show. He was announced in late June of 2020, after the resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide as a sign that the show was trying to (FINALLY) be more “diverse” in casting. Additionally, a Change.org petition was created demanding a Black lead for season 25 and at least 35% of the contestants be people of color. Bachelor Nation was thrilled by James stepping into this position.
This announcement put an immense pressure on James, from representing Black men in America to feeling obligated to pick a Black woman at the end of his whole courtship. Now what ended up causing the most drama throughout his season, did end up being who James picked as the winner.
James took the unconventional route and opted out of an engagement at the end of the show, but still wanted to pursue a relationship with his final woman, Rachael Kirkconnell. What was shocking about this decision wasn’t the fact that the pair didn’t leave engaged or that Kirkconnell wasn’t Black. It was because Kirkconnell has a past of racially ignorant behavior.
When this season aired back in January, Kirkconnell was quickly called out on TikTok for allegedly making fun of girls in high school for liking Black guys and her social media activity was put on blast, specifically for the fact that she liked pro-Trump and QAnon posts.
Then a photo emerged of Kirkconnell at a plantation theme party in college, one that celebrated the antebellum south. Antebellum quite literally means “before the war,” more specifically the Civil War – you know the one that was fought to free the slaves?
Celebrating this time period is problematic because it romanticizes slavery and racism at its core. Kirkconnell agreed to participate in a show where she would be competing for the heart of a Black man, meanwhile she can’t even begin to fathom what life is like for a Black man in America. This photo proves that.
Many people, including the host of the Bachelor franchise Chris Harrison, defended Kirkconnell, claiming that it was normal for where she grew up and that the photo was taken three years ago, it may not reflect her current beliefs.
However, one of the biggest issues with this controversy is the fact that it could’ve entirely been avoided.
It is the show producer’s job to do extensive background checks of the contestants and if these photographs were found so easily by fans of the show, the producers could’ve found them in no time. I’m sure of it. The fact that they potentially knowingly cast someone with a racially ignorant past on the season with the first Black bachelor and let him continually choose her, despite this, is terrible. The producers know who is a front runner for the lead and it is disgusting that they played off of this for dramatic effect.
While filming, James had no idea of Kirkconnell’s past social media behavior and had to find out along with everyone else, while his season was airing. He had to cope with the fact he fell for a woman that didn’t understand a fundamental part of his life and identity.
During the “After the Final Rose” television special, James addressed Kirkconnell and told her that her not understanding her actions meant that “there’s a lot of me that you won’t understand.” He then went on to explain that her actions made him question their relationship, because when he had to explain to her why her actions were problematic, “it was in the context of you not fully understanding my Blackness, and what it means to be a Black man in America, and what it would mean for our kids,” he said to her.
The producers should’ve protected James from this.
It is the producers jobs to create drama for the show in order to boost viewership and subsequently ratings. However, throwing in a racially ignorant contestant when there is already an immense societal pressure on the Bachelor as the first Black man to hold the spot is just disgusting and in poor taste.
Drama can be created in various ways, from how the contestants interact with each other to how they compete for James’ heart (which was vividly documented over the course of the season and dates often took a backseat to this drama), that including this storyline was wildly unnecessary and insensitive to James.
Racism is not and should never be a selling point for a show. That is capitalizing off of someone else’s hardships, which, in and of itself, is racist.
The producers should have warned James of Kirkconnell’s past so he could have made a full, informed decision about the woman he was potentially going to become engaged to. Instead, they chose to sacrifice his feelings for the sake of ratings.
“The Bachelor” is often dismissed as trashy reality television and for this reason many people forget that there is a real person with real feelings on the other side of the camera. James was not hired to play some act. He was not hired purely for America’s entertainment. He wanted to find love, yes, in an unconventional way, but he is still a person.
By showing him fall in love with Kirkconnell, the producers set James up for heartbreak and set America up to root for someone and a relationship that is unfair and cruel to James. “The Bachelor ” paints fairytale romances, which was no different for James’ and Kirkconnell relationship; however, the reality of this season was no traditional fairytale.
Instead, James was left heartbroken and distraught. He was put in the position to explain to the woman he loved why her past actions were so problematic and hurtful. It is not the job of Black America to educate White America. Yet, that is what James was forced into because his producers did not protect him. They put him in a delicate situation to save their own jobs.
By casting Kirkconnell to begin with, she was set up with a platform to spread her racially ignorant views. When cast on “The Bachelor,” it is usually assumed that contestants will gain a substantial social media following succeeding their time on the show. With Kirkconnell being cast, and eventually winning, she amassed THOUSANDS of followers which exponentially increased her outreach. Bachelor nations need to become more cognizant of the fact that, while we are watching the show for entertainment, real people are involved and their real lives are being messed with.
Moving forward, producers should conduct genuine background checks of their contestants so their leads won’t be put in a compromising position. Additionally, if it is discovered during filming that one of their contestants is obviously not a good match for their lead, that contestant should be removed from the show.
There are ethical lines that should be respected and never sacrificed merely to create “the most dramatic season ever.” Racism is not drama that should be celebrated, encouraged or broadcast. Is it discrimination that should be stopped at all costs.