As calls for Harrison’s firing grow louder, Matt James, the show’s first Black Bachelor in 25 seasons, broke his silence surrounding the controversy ahead of Monday’s new episode. James specifically called out Harrison’s “troubling and painful” words excusing historical racism. Harrison apologized and announced on Feb. 13 he was temporarily “stepping aside” after defending frontrunner Rachael Kirkconnell’s past racist actions.
“Chris’s failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand intimately, was troubling and painful to watch,” James said of Harrison’s interview on Extra. “As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years.”
According to former Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise contestant Taylor Nolan, Harrison’s words aren’t all that surprising to many in Bachelor Nation.
“I was surprised that he didn’t catch himself. I was surprised that for as well-trained as he is, that he didn’t know he should probably shut his mouth because he’s about to show himself,” the psychotherapist tells Yahoo Entertainment. “He just let his truth out, which many of us already know, but he’s never done it in such an overt way. At the same time, I’m not surprised he didn’t catch himself because he really believes in what he was saying, he really didn’t think he was saying anything wrong. He thought that was a great conversation!”
During Harrison’s conversation with Lindsay, he asked for people to show Kirkconnell a little “grace” after photos emerged of her attending an Antebellum-themed party in 2018. He also said it’s not fair for people to dig into her and her parents’ voting records. Nolan believes Harrison was “in a way, trying to defend himself” in that interview. (Lindsay, who was cast as the first Black lead in 2017, said something similar.)
“Who you vote for [does say something about you],” she explains. “I think he was projecting onto Rachael K. These are things that people in the franchise … are well aware of. That Chris is more conservative, that he’s Republican, that he’s a very wealthy older white man in a high position of power who has rarely, if ever, shared his power with marginalized groups of people.”
Harrison has not spoken publicly about his own political views. Yahoo reached out to his publicist for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
According to the Let’s Talk About It With Taylor Nolan podcast host, some former non-white contestants felt “a little uneasy around” Harrison, given his political views.
“And not just because of his own personal stances, or lack thereof publicly, but also because he represents what the franchise represents, and the franchise has not represented the BIPOC community, has not represented the non-heteronormative community and [represents] thin beauty European standards that our mainstream culture holds,” she says. “Because Chris represents what the franchise represents, I think it’s part of what made this no secret to many individuals.”
A spokesperson for the Bachelor Diversity Campaign also tells Yahoo the group was not surprised after Harrison’s comments made headlines.
“We are all fans of the show and the reason we came together is because we know The Bachelor has a problem with race. Chris Harrison, as both executive producer and the face of the franchise, plays a role in that. It’s sometimes been coded, or in what’s missing rather than what’s seen, but it’s always been there. Now it’s just amplified,” the group says. “We also aren’t surprised by the fallout. This has been a long time coming. … As Rachel [Lindsay] said, the only thing that was surprising was Chris’s decision to speak so passionately and publicly in his dismissal of racism.”
Ivan Hall, a fan-favorite from Tayshia Adams’s season of The Bachelorette, told E! News he won’t do Bachelor in Paradise with Harrison as host. Former Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise star Mike Johnson believes Harrison should be “removed” from the franchise, but not canceled. Nolan believes The Bachelor franchise “absolutely can go on” without Harrison as host.
“The amount of airtime he gets, it’s not like he’s narrating the whole show. I mean, before I went on the show, I would fast-forward all those talks that people have with Chris because he wasn’t actually asking real questions!” Nolan adds, but says the decision ultimately lands with ABC and Warner Bros.
“I just think ABC and Warner Bros. have to be willing to take that risk, to really change their franchise, to change the face of their franchise, to change what their franchise stands for. And it can be a hard position to fill because the very dedicated Bachelor Nation holds on to [Harrison]. They feel very strongly about him. So it’s certainly the difficult decision to make, but frankly, it’s kind of an easy one at this point,” Nolan explains.
Yahoo reached out to Warner Bros. for comment on Harrison’s future but did not immediately receive a response.
Two Change.org petitions have been created, one to keep Harrison and one to fire Harrison, with the latter having more than double the signatures. But the Bachelor Diversity Campaign hopes the important message doesn’t get lost in “cancel culture.”
“We hope that you are beginning to understand the difference between accountability and ‘cancel culture,’ and that your apologies reflect your genuine contrition and openness to growth,” a spokesperson for the group says, addressing Harrison directly. “If so, we encourage you to address the sizable number of your fans who continue to defend your defense of racism (look no further than your post comments!), and attack those like Rachel Lindsay, Taylor Nolan, Victoria Price and Mikayla Bartholomew of The Blckchelorettes podcast, and others, who have led these important conversations with grace.
“We hope this is a wake-up call for you. We encourage you, and The Bachelor franchise you represent, to look at the scale of backlash and recognize that this would not have happened if the problem wasn’t systemic — both in your own worldview and in the franchise’s treatment of race,” the group says. “We genuinely hope you do better, but it should not be at the expense of BIPOC cast, crew, employees, and viewers, nor should it be while you are host or executive producer within The Bachelor franchise.”
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