Matt James Breaks Silence on Bachelor Controversy: Chris Harrison's Interview Was 'Troubling'
After more than a week of silence, James issued a statement on Instagram Monday about host Chris Harrison's decision to step aside after failing to condemn current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell's past racist behavior.
For more on Matt James' statement, listen below to the episode of PEOPLE Every Day.
Calling the past few weeks some of the "most challenging" of his life, James, 29, said that like Bachelor fans, he is "learning about these situations in real time." The reality star said that the controversy — "including the incredibly disappointing photos of Rachael Kirkconnell and the interview between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison" — has been "devastating and heartbreaking, to put it bluntly."
The controversy began when old social media posts of Kirkconnell's resurfaced online, including photos of her dressed in Native American attire in costume and attending an antebellum plantation-themed ball. Kirkconnell, who is one of the final three contestants on James' currently airing season, has since apologized.
In an Extra interview with Lindsay, who was the franchise's first Black lead, Harrison, 49, said people should have "a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion" in the wake of the resurfaced photos and questioned the "lens" of 2021 compared to 2018. After receiving backlash for his remarks, Harrison issued two apologies and announced that he would be stepping away from the franchise for an unspecified amount of time.
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"Chris' 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, the first Black Bachelor, said in his statement Monday.
"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," he said.
"This moment has sparked critical conversations and reporting, raised important questions, and resulted in inspiring displays of solidarity from The Bachelor nation," James continued. "It has also pushed me to reevaluate and process what my experience on The Bachelor represents, not just for me, but for all of the contestants of color, especially the Black contestants of this season and seasons past, and for you, the viewers at home."
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James concluded by sharing that he would be saying more at a later time, ostensibly after the current season's finale.
"I will continue to process this experience, and you will hear more from me in the end," he said. "My greatest prayer is that this is an inflection point that results in real and institutional change for the better."
Lindsay, 35, has said that she is done with the Bachelor franchise and that it was the "right decision" for Harrison to step aside. Tayshia Adams, the latest Bachelorette, also called Harrison's temporary removal "a really good thing."