The Bachelor's Chris Harrison Apologizes for 'Speaking in a Manner That Perpetuates Racism'
This week, the longtime host addressed the controversy surrounding current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell while speaking with Bachelor Nation's Rachel Lindsay. Although Harrison told Lindsay he wanted fans to have "a little grace" with Kirkconnell in the wake of her resurfaced and racially insensitive photos, his comments didn't sit well with some fans — even resulting in a petition calling for him to be removed from the franchise.
Now, in a statement on Wednesday, Harrison, 49, admitted to "wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism" and apologized to fans.
"To my Bachelor Nation family — I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology. I have this incredible platform to speak about love, and yesterday I took a stance on topics which I should have been better informed. While I do not speak for Rachael Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf," Harrison began.
"What I now realize I have done is cause harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism, and for that I am so deeply sorry. I also apologize to my friend Rachel Lindsay for not listening to her better on a topic she has a first-hand understanding of, and humbly thank the members of Bachelor Nation who have reached out to me to hold me accountable," he continued. "I promise to do better."
The controversy surrounding Kirkconnell sparked last month, when a Reddit user uploaded a photo of the Bachelor frontrunner dressed in Native American attire as a costume; Kirkconnell also seemingly liked a June 2020 Instagram post in which some of the women pictured also wore Native American costumes.
Last week, two more photos were posted of Kirkconnell from 2018, when she allegedly "attended the Kappa Alpha Order 'Old South' formal, an antebellum plantation themed ball," according to the Reddit post. In the snaps, she and a group of other women wore antebellum-style dresses. She has also been accused on TikTok of bullying a former classmate "in high school for liking Black guys."
Kirkconnell has not yet publicly addressed the photos. ABC had no comment when reached by PEOPLE on Wednesday.
On Extra Tuesday, Harrison debated with Lindsay — the franchise's first Black Bachelorette — about the controversial pictures of the graphic designer, who is currently competing for Bachelor Matt James' final rose.
"I haven't talked to Rachael about it. And this is, again, where we all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion," Harrison told Lindsay during the interview. "Because I've seen some stuff online — again this judge-jury-executioner thing — where people are just tearing this girl's life apart and diving into, like, her parents and her parents' voting record. It's unbelievably alarming to watch this. I haven't heard Rachael speak on this yet. And 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 and that's it. Like, boom. Like, 'Okay. Well, this girl is in this book now. And she's now in this group.' And I'm like, 'Really?'" said Harrison.
Lindsay went on to explain that the image in question "was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party ... that's not a good look."
Harrison proceeded to suggest that perspectives change over time. "Well, Rachel is it a good look in 2018? Or, is it not a good look in 2021? Because there's a big difference," said Harrison.
"It's not a good look ever," said Lindsay, "because she's celebrating the Old South. If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?"
While Harrison said he didn't "disagree" with the former Bachelorette lead, he stood by his belief that outlooks can shift.
"You're 100 percent right in 2021. That was not the case in 2018," he said, adding that he was "not defending Rachael. I just know that, I don't know, 50 million people did that in 2018.... That was a type of party that a lot of people went to. And again, I'm not defending it; I didn't go to it. We are not looking under the same lens," said Harrison.
The franchise host shared his belief that at the time the pictures were taken, "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 okay? I don't know Rachel, you tell me. But where is this lens we're holding up and was that lens available, and were we all looking through it in 2018? I don't know. I don't have these answers."
Lindsay pointed out "that's the problem," adding that "we weren't looking through those lens and we should have been. And just because it was a popular party, you know, doesn't necessarily make it right."
She also agreed that Harrison was "right in the sense that, you know, maybe there should be some, 'Hey,' understanding of, like, not everybody knows everything. Right? And I think that that's what people are learning or learned in 2020 or started to learn."
Still, "with this situation, with Rachael, I think what's frustrating, and you said it yourself, you said, 'She hasn't spoken out.' You haven't heard from her," said Lindsay. "And there's nothing that contractually stops her from" addressing the photos.
To Harrison, "it's a slippery slope," he said.
He later added that "this poor girl Rachael, who has just been thrown to the lions, I don't know how you are equipped when you have never done this before, to be woke enough, to be eloquent enough, to be ready to handle this. And my guess is, this woman needs a little time."
Though Kirkconnell has yet to address the controversy, "she will speak, my guess, and when she does, I'm going to hear her out," said Harrison. "And if I disagree with her, if you disagree with her, then we can have our say," he told Lindsay, who noted that it's been weeks since the first photos surfaced.
While he doesn't "think it is incumbent upon The Bachelor franchise to speak out on everything that everyone wants to hear about on social media," Harrison did confirm that it will be discussed on the Women Tell All episode. "We do get into it. Rachael was not there, so we didn't get into the Rachael of it all, but Rachael will have her time to speak and hopefully I will be there to have that debate with her and I will push her."