From breakups to makeups and everything in between, Bachelor Nation has seen it all — and it hasn’t always been pretty.
Loyal fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette often put in the work to uncover secrets from contestants’ pasts as they search for love on the ABC reality franchise. During Matt James‘ historic season, which kicked off in January 2021, frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell sparked major controversy when viewers called her social media history into question.
The graphic designer came under fire shortly after season 25 of The Bachelor premiered when one TikTok user accused her of being racist in high school. As the season continued, more information about Kirkconnell’s past came to light in separate TikTok posts and pictures of her at an antebellum-themed frat party in 2018 resurfaced online. She broke her silence in a lengthy Instagram statement in February 2021.
“While there have been rumors circulating, there have also been truths that have come to light that I need to address. I hear you, and I’m here to say I was wrong,” she wrote. “At one point, I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.”
Kirkconnell said that she was “sorry to the communities and individuals that [her] actions harmed and offended” and blamed her ignorance on her “lack of education.” She also encouraged Bachelor Nation fans to use her mistakes as a “teachable moment.”
Before the reality star addressed the controversy, host Chris Harrison asked viewers to have “compassion” for Kirkconnell during an interview with the franchise’s first Black Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay.
“I have seen some stuff online. Again, this judge, jury, executioner thing where people are just tearing this girl’s life apart … Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this … I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago that’s it,” Harrison said at the time. “My guess? These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time, they were 18 years old. Now, does that make it OK? I don’t know Rachel, you tell me. Were we all looking through [that lens] in 2018?”
Harrison faced backlash for his comments, with fans and members of Bachelor Nation taking aim. After posting an apology online, the Bachelor host announced in February 2021 that he was taking a temporary break from hosting Matt James‘ season. “I have consulted with Warner Bros. and ABC and will be stepping aside for a period of time and will not join for the After the Final Rose special,” the Texas native said in a lengthy Instagram post. “I am dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before.”
Kirkconnell isn’t the first contestant to be criticized for racially insensitive behavior. Hannah Brown, the season 15 Bachelorette, issued a public apology in May 2020 when she was caught saying the N-word while singing along to DaBaby‘s “Rockstar” on Instagram Live.
“I don’t want to be ignorant anymore,” Brown said at the time, telling her followers not to “defend” her behavior. “I don’t want to be an ignorant white girl who uses the N-word. But I also don’t want be someone who goes on their platform intoxicated and engages with their platform that way. … I have learned that there are things that I cannot say. … There is so much more historical context that I didn’t know that makes it so much more inappropriate.”
The Alabama native concluded, “I will keep doing whatever I can to learn more and support the solution in all this. … A lot of people hurting and a lot of people angry, rightfully.”
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