A while ago, I wrote an article on how Chris Harrison essentially turned me off the entire Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. It was an amalgamation of reasons — there was the creepiness, his undisclosed relationship with former Bachelorette contestant Emily Maynard, the creepiness, and the way he seemed to relish the drama and awkwardness he subjected others to. Not to mention the creepiness.
At the time, this might have been considered what you’d call a “hot take,” but now, others have joined my camp for an altogether different reason. As it turns out, not even a superstar or “national treasure” like Chris Harrison is immune to being trussed up and thrown under the tracks of the cancel culture train.
Harrison came under fire recently for seemingly defending the racist actions of another contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell.
In an interview with now-ExtraTV host and former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, Harrison was questioned by Lindsay about a photo of Kirkconnell that surfaced of her at a Kappa Alpha Order party called the “Old South.” (For those who don’t know, KA is a national collegiate fraternity which hosts an Old South party each year, where women dress up as Southern belles. Many chapters have since banned Old South following increased discussions on its racial insensitivity.) Kirkconnell attended and graduated from Georgia College & State University, which is apparently one such university that was continuing to host Old South up until fairly recently.
Harrison called it “unbelievably alarming” that fans are researching Kirkconnell's past.
If you haven’t seen the interview, it’s a doozy. Lindsay pressed Harrison to condemn Kirkconnell’s actions (actions which, granted, happened years ago before she was ever in the public spotlight), and he in turn did the exact opposite. Instead, Harrison called it “unbelievably alarming” that fans are researching Kirkconnell's past and even her parents’ voting record. Lindsay continued to press, explaining the connotations of Kirkconnell’s attendance at Old South, saying it wasn’t a good look, to which Harrison responded (ringing his death knell), “Is it a good look in 2018? Or is it a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference.”
To many, Harrison’s apparent defense of Kirkconnell was enough to equivocally and irrevocably brand him as a racist, thus destroying his career, not to mention Kirkconnell’s. But many apparently didn’t stop to think about what he was really asking. Was he defending Old South or KA as an institution, or the apparent cancelling of Kirkconnell? Were Kirkconnell’s actions misguided? At the time, she didn’t seem to think so, and neither did any of us, for that matter. We’re only calling her out after the fact because proving ourselves to be anti-racists demands that we do so. Kirkconnell probably didn’t do a thorough investigation into the many problematic instances of racism KA has been affiliated with before she donned her satin ball gown. But we’re supposed to believe that she did and misguidedly went anyway.
I never imagined that I’d be (somewhat) defending Chris Harrison, but here we are.
Here’s the Tea
For years now, the franchise has struggled with what many are calling its diversity problem.
This season’s Bachelor, Matt James, is the first ever black leading man, though there have been Latino, Asian, and other ethnicities in the franchise during past seasons. Rachel Lindsay, as the first black Bachelorette, has since become an advocate for more representation in the franchise, though she recently declared she no longer wants to be associated with it following Harrison’s comments. Lindsay also revealed there were initiatives taken within the network to make sure people of color were included in the ranks of contestants, and even workshops that Harrison apparently didn’t attend or take notice of.
Intention in the cancel culture realm is entirely irrelevant.
Harrison’s comments in the interview might have been well-intentioned, but as we know now, intention in the cancel culture realm is entirely irrelevant. Harrison’s probe into the 2018 vs. 2021 lens is actually an interesting thought, but we’re not allowed to admit it. Again, I never thought I’d be defending him.
In a franchise that’s already been criticized for its lack of diversity, Harrison’s interview couldn’t have come at a worse time. And as Lindsay rallies the contestants both former and current behind her, it doesn’t look like there’s much hope for a future for Harrison or Kirkconnell.
Did Chris Harrison Deserve It?
The cancel culture monster has often been defended by its proponents not as cancel culture, but as “accountability.” Accountability ensures that those who have done wrong acknowledge and apologize for their actions, and are therefore forgiven. But the cancel culture mob, which demands acknowledgement and apology, will never forgive you for as long as you live and will even denigrate your apology.
This will follow both Harrison and Kirkconnell for the rest of their careers. They won’t be able to interview, release statements, or speak on other topics without being questioned about it. And what might be even worse is that the perfunctory apologies they released are just...cringe.
Harrison’s statement, released on his Instagram account, was your regular boilerplate bowing-to-the-mob type of stuff. He discussed his past actions, his anti-racism efforts going forward, etc., ad nauseam ad infinitum. He even promised to “do better.” Shocker, I know.
Accountability ensures that those who have done wrong acknowledge it, apologize, and are forgiven.
What’s somehow even worse was Kirkconnell’s statement. At one point, she writes, “I was ignorant, and my ignorance was racist.” I wouldn’t have thought ignorance, which by definition is a lack of education or awareness, could be racist, but in 2021 anything is possible.
Here’s the thing though. Their respective apologies didn’t make anything better and didn’t make the harshest of their opponents forgive them. It didn’t magically motivate Lindsay to stop her crusade, or make the situation less uncomfortable and the franchise less “problematic.” It only fueled the flame that anything is acceptable as long as you end up apologizing for it, and more importantly, reinforced the contradiction that we should somehow be aware of our insensitivities, shortcomings, and faux pas before they even happen.
Cancel culture is a god that can never be satisfied, no matter who is sacrificed. Not even “America’s dad” is immune. Harrison and Kirkconnell would have been crucified had they stuck to their guns, but even with apologies, there’s no coming back from this. They’re done either way; it doesn’t matter, and that’s the distinction between true accountability and what they and countless others have been subjected to.
Harrison has since revealed that he has stepped away indefinitely from the franchise as host. It isn’t hard to guess what the reaction will be should he decide to come back.
Like many, Kirkconnell and Harrison are just two examples of what can happen to you, should you have unknowingly offended the mob. Not even national figures like Abraham Lincoln are safe anymore, illustrating that the pendulum hasn’t just swung too far — it’s completely off the track.
Sooner or later, the same mob coming for Kirkconnell’s throat will realize that over the years, thousands of people have attended Old South or been members of KA. Maybe it’s time to prepare. You could be next.