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Rachael Kirkconnell addresses Old South party photos: ‘Please stop defending me’

Woman in red dress sitting down
Rachel Kirkconnell, seen on a “Bachelor” follow-up episode, addressed photos from 2018 on an Instagram Live led Monday by the organizers of the group From Privilege to Progress.
(Craig Sjodin / ABC)

Does Rachael Kirkconnell get it now?

“Whether it was a party or me just going to take some photos, that dress and the history of that formal was racist. I was completely ignorant to that and I needed to be held accountable for that,” the controversial winner of “The Bachelor” Season 25 said Monday in an Instagram Live.

Kirkconnell, whose “Bachelor” season starred the franchise’s first Black male lead, Matt James, became a source of controversy when photos from 2018 resurfaced during the course of the show. As a student at Georgia College & State University, she had posed wearing an antebellum-era gown before a fraternity’s Old South-themed plantation party.

The controversy that erupted around the series this week drew in contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, host Chris Harrison and former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay.

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The photos ignited a racial reckoning within “The Bachelor” franchise, resulting in the departure of longtime host Chris Harrison and a temporary split between James and Kirkconnell. Though she issued an apology statement this past February, Kirkconnell confronted her past Monday in a lengthy conversation with Michelle Saahene and Melissa DePino, the women who founded anti-racism organization From Privilege to Progress.

“Everyone, when they saw that photo, including Matt, it was like that had just happened,” Kirkconnell said. “For them, it was brand new, but for me, it was years ago.”

The 24-year-old talked about how it was difficult to have people perceive her as “the exact same person” from three years ago and said her departure from sororities and Greek life happened soon after the formal. She admitted she thought nothing of the event at the time.

“I’m so ashamed that I basically participated in that unknowingly because I’m sitting here in my own little privileged, selfish world. It was nothing more than an Instagram opportunity…really I’m not even asking myself why we dressed up like that.”

Chris Harrison, host of “The Bachelor,” says he is “stepping aside” after making controversial statements about race.

The reemergence of the photos and all that followed made her realize the difference between “being not racist and anti-racist,” she said. Coupled with the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that ensued Kirkconnell said, she realized there was more internal work to be done and added that she doesn’t “speak to certain family members anymore.”

“That was probably the first time I realized there are layers to this. You can obviously be overtly, openly racist, but you can also have implicit bias and these racial tendencies within you that you don’t even know about or you can be racially ignorant,” she said.

In a first-person story published Monday by New York Magazine, the former “Bachelorette,” and the franchise’s first Black lead, did not mince words.

Before the photos emerged, Kirkconnell was targeted for liking unpopular posts on social media, and also for her family’s support of former President Trump. She recounted the internal struggle she had amid the debacle, considering whether it would be perceived as performative to address the rumors or whether she’d be implicating herself.

When the images came to light, “All of that went out the window...,” Kirkconnell said with a chuckle. “Then certain interviews were had and it got even worse,” alluding to the “ExtraTV” interview Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, conducted with Harrison.

Lindsay and Harrison were discussing the racial insensitivity of the images, which Harrison brushed off, saying “there’s a big difference between 2018 and 2021.” Soon after, Harrison was suspended from and ultimately left the franchise. While that moment ultimately spurred Kirkconnell to speak up, Lindsay received intense backlash, with some fans deeming her responsible for the longtime host’s exit.

After Rachel Lindsay criticized Chris Harrison for defending the racist actions of a contestant, ‘Bachelor’ producers defended her against a backlash.

Apart from sharing how she has sought “some kind of normalcy” in the last few months, Kirkconnell said she and James are in a great place in their relationship now. Though she’s “not in the place to educate people” herself, she said she hopes to continue to use her platform to “pave the way for people to find those resources” on their journey to anti-racist education.

”So many of my followers are white women who watch ‘The Bachelor’ and they either didn’t understand what was wrong with the situation or they’re in my DMs messaging that I didn’t do anything wrong,” Kirkconnell said. “Please stop defending me. If you want to support me, please stop doing that.”


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