Matt James Recalls 'Hard Conversations' with Rachael Kirkconnell About Race After 'Bachelor' Scandal

In his new book First Impressions: Off-Screen Conversations With a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness, James recounted what happened after past racially insensitive photos of Rachael Kirkconnell resurfaced online

Rachael Kirkconnell and Matt James attend the 2021 Sports Humanitarian Awards on July 12, 2021 in New York City.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Matt James is opening up about the scandal that consumed his Bachelor season.

In his new book First Impressions: Off-Screen Conversations With a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness, James recounted what happened after past racially insensitive photos of contestant Rachael Kirkconnell at an antebellum plantation-themed college party in 2018 resurfaced online while the season aired last year.

Though the couple did not get engaged during the finale, the two decided to pursue a relationship, and according to James, they were "in love" and in constant communication after his season wrapped.

"She mentioned that some things about her past had popped up on the web, but I shrugged it off and told her not to worry about it," he explained in an expert from his book published in Cosmopolitan. "The Twitter mob would have a new target soon enough. Then the picture dropped."

He said Kirkconnell immediately reached out to him to discuss the photos, and he stood by her side. "I knew the woman I'd chosen to be with. Celebrity gossip, no matter how sensitive, wouldn't shape my opinion of her," he shared. "Her voice on the other end was strained and unsteady."

"I assured her that I knew who she was," he added.

But with James in traveling doing Bachelor appearances and Kirkconnel in her hometown in Georgia, he knew they needed to have an in-person conversation.

"She and I spent two days together, and then on the third day, we had the hard conversation," James wrote. "I shared how it felt seeing her, a woman I loved, embody a role that had once so antagonized me. My emotions welled up, and she met me at their peak."

matt james
Rachael Kirkconnell and Matt James. Matt James/Instagram

James said Kirckonnell apologized for "the pain I felt" and explained her side of the story.

"She'd only been in the sorority a short time; she left the semester following the party," he wrote. "She didn't know about the context of the party when she chose to attend; it was just another college event in her mind. She didn't offer her ignorance as an excuse. Just a fact—she paired it with the facts of her remorse and regret. Tears streamed down both our faces."

"I forgave her," he said.

But as he thought more about it, James began to understand just how deep the issue went between them.

"I was naive. I didn't anticipate just how divisive we would become. But more than the external perception, I didn't recognize the role that race would play between the two of us. I am many things—a son, a brother, a man of God—and my race is just as formative a force as all those other traits. I am Black. My partner would need to understand that—not just the fact of my race but also its many implications," he wrote. "Rachael and I had committed to each other without ever exploring one of my most central traits. And if that had gone unexplored, what else could be lingering out there with the potential to divide us?"

Ultimately, the two decided to take some time apart to process everything that had happened.

"I needed to slow the train down," Matt wrote. "We both needed to reflect on the relationship we'd developed, to ask ourselves how deep its roots really reached."

Ahead of the After the Final Rose special, Kirkconnell issued a public apology. "I hear you, and I'm here to say I was wrong," she wrote in an Instagram post in February 2021. "They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist."

James and Kirkconnell started speaking again, and after filming an emotional AFR conversation, they decided to continue working on their relationship — though it wasn't always easy. James admits that he reached out to a few exes, which upset Kirkconnell and she blocked his number.

Rachael and Matt James
Rachael Kirkconnell and Matt James. Craig Sjodin/Getty Images

But eventually, James said fate brought them back together. The former Bachelor star was in Georgia for an event when he received a notification that Kirkconnell was just two blocks away.

"Turns out, she hadn't meant to send the notification at all; she didn't even know I was in Atlanta," James wrote. "She had just unblocked my contact, which triggered the location sharing to return automatically—a crazy coincidence that felt fated. I asked if we could talk. She told me we had nothing to talk about. I pleaded, coaxed, and convinced. She relented."

What happened next led to their lasting relationship.

"We talked for four hours in that car about all of the issues that had kept us apart—her mistakes, my mistakes, insecurities, family drama, public perception, and everything else under the sun," James said. "I decided to be better going forward. She had done self-work that I hadn't reciprocated. I promised her that I was all in. It was the best decision I could have made."

As fans know, James and Kirkconnell have been going strong ever since, regularly sharing their relationship on social media. Most recently, the two documented their European trip together on Instagram, showing highlights from stops Lake Como, Rome, Venice and Florence.

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