By Emily Cortes
Rachael Kirkconnell wore an embellished green ball gown when she accepted the final rose from Matt James on the latest season of ABC’s The Bachelor. Different from the traditional proposal that happens at the finale of each season, James made it very clear to Kirkconnell that he was not ready for an engagement, yet wasn’t ready for their relationship to end. James offered her the final rose as a token of their continued relationship, and Kirkconnell lovingly accepted.
The relationship took a turn after filming wrapped, when racially suggested pictures surfaced of Kirkconnell and friends attending an Antebellum plantation themed fraternity formal in 2018. The attire for the party. Bachelor nation and many other social media users dug up and circulated the images, not only because of how racially insensitive and ignorant it was to attend such a party, but also because her love interest was the first Black bachelor to be on the show.
The “Antebellum” themed formal celebrated a time in history, pre civil war era, where slavery and plantations were not only common, but activity being protected by the South. Many on social media were quick to cancel Kirkconnell for failing to realize the implications that come along with celebrating a part of history that has created generation trauma, such that directly affects her would-be fiancé.
The comments surrounding Kirkconnell’s attendance were mixed, some saying she should be cancelled, others saying she was racially insensitive and ignorant because she was unsure of the deeper meaning of the antebellum themed party. After these photos emerged, Kirkconnell put out a public statement to her instagram holding herself accountable and saying she does not deserve instant forgiveness, but she hopes that overtime people will grow to forgive her by witnessing her changed actions. A lot of people also stated that she should not be scrutinized because the images from the party did not display any kind of racist actions being done, other than the name of the theme.
The Bachelor host Chris Harrison also came under fire for his defense of Kirkconnell, and to make matters worse, Harrison basically denied any wrongdoing by Kirkconnell while on a live television interview with Rachel Lindsay, a Black host on the pop culture news cast, Extra.
Harrison’s justification was that Kirkconnell was being judged under a “2021 lens” for something she did in 2018. Meaning, racial insensitivity and racism in itself was not as talked about, it was not acknowledged as much, and being a Black individual in America meant there were corrupt and prejudiced systems in place that many people did not care to change.
Harrison’s statement was also extremely problematic, even putting him on hiatus from the “After the Final Rose” tell all episode and possibly the next two upcoming seasons of The Bachelorette. The Tell All special was hosted by Emmanuel Acho and the discussion of why he was there filling in for Harrison was the first topic they dove into. Acho addressed the reason why Harrison was not hosting, spoke with Kirkconnell in a one on one interview, and then discussed what it meant for James and Kirkconell’s relationship moving forward.
Despite the acknowledgement from Kirkconnell on how her ignorance caused so much harm to the Black community, James stated that his reasoning for ending their relationship and not trying to move forward was because after James confronted Kirkconnell on the images, she had no idea why they were a problem.
This doesn’t just mean that Kirkconnell had offended James by attending the fraternity formal, but he realized that, as a Black man in America, Kirkconnell will never fully understand what being Black would mean for her future husband and their future children. James cited that he doesn’t understand how Kirkconnell would be able to explain to her children she were to have with James as to why she attended such a party, no matter what the circumstances surrounding her attendance were.
Acho signed off the show by making it very clear to Kirkconnell that he didn’t believe she was a racist, but he does think that her actions were racially insensitive and were due to her racial ignorance. Kirkconnell can educate herself as much as she can, hold herself accountable, as well as others who she sees actively being racist, racially insensitive, or racially ignorant, but as a white woman, she will never truly understand the hurt she caused many in the black community the day of that party.
She will never understand because she is not Black. The opinions of those who think she may have been in the wrong, or she should be cut some slack, are only giving their opinions— only those within the Black community can perfectly explain what her actions have caused.