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"Bachelor" host Chris Harrison is temporarily "stepping aside" after "excusing historical racism"

Rachel Lindsay speaks out against white silence
Rachel Lindsay speaks out against white silence 00:33

Chris Harrison, the longtime host of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," announced Saturday that he is "stepping aside" from the franchise for an undisclosed "period of time." The bombshell announcement comes in the wake of a controversial interview, in which he defended a current contestant's racist photos. 

"This historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions," Harrison wrote in an announcement posted to Instagram, referencing the current lead of the show, Matt James, who is the first Black male lead. "To that end, I have consulted with Warner Bros. and ABC and will be stepping aside for a period of time and will not join for the After the Final Rose special."

Harrison added that he was "dedicated" to educating himself on a more profound and productive level. "I want to ensure our cast and crew members, to my friends, colleagues and our fans: this is not just a moment, but a commitment to much greater understanding that I will actively make every day," he said.

Harrison has faced increasing backlash online this week after defending a contestant who has been accused of racist acts. Rachel Lindsay, the franchise's first Black female lead and one of the show's strongest advocates for racial justice, said Friday that she will not renew her contract with the franchise as a result of Harrison's comments.

"By excusing historical racism, I defended it," Harrison wrote Saturday. "I invoked the term 'woke police,' which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was. I was so wrong."

Harrison wrote that he was sorry to the Black and BIPOC community. "My words were harmful," he said. "I am listening, and I truly apologize for my ignorance and any pain it caused you. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the people from these communities who I've had enlightening conversations with over the past few days, and I am so grateful to those who have reached out to help me on my path to anti-racism."

It is not clear how long Harrison will be absent from the franchise, or who will take his place during the "After the Final Rose" special, which is not pretaped.

The controversy began after photos surfaced of Rachael Kirkconnell, a contestant on this season of "The Bachelor," attending an antebellum-themed party in 2018. 

Here's a breakdown of how it unfolded: 

Harrison's interview with Rachel Lindsay

Lindsay asked Harrison about the Kirkconnell photos during an interview on Tuesday. Kirkconnell's season features Matt James as the Bachelor, marking the first time the franchise has chosen a Black male for the role. 

"We all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion," Harrison told Lindsay. "Because I have seen some stuff online — this judge, jury, executioner thing — where people are just tearing this girl's life apart and diving into, like, her parents, 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?"

"Well, the picture was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party," Lindsay replied. "That's not a good look." 

"Is it a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021?" Harrison asked.

"It's not a good look ever," Lindsay said, adding, "If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?" 

"You're 100% right in 2021. That was not the case in 2018," Harrison said, estimating that "50 million people did that in 2018." 

"That was a type of party," he said, adding that he is "not defending it."

Chris Harrison & Rachel Lindsay Talk ‘Bachelor’ Contestant Rachael Kirkconnell by extratv on YouTube

Harrison and Kirkconnell apologize

After facing backlash over his comments, Harrison posted an apology to social media on Wednesday. 

"To my Bachelor Nation family — I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology," he said. "I have this incredible platform to speak about love, and yesterday I took a stance on topics about 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," he continued. "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. I promise to do better."

Kirkconnell also apologized on Thursday, writing on Instagram, "I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist. I am sorry to the communities and individuals that my actions harmed and offended. I am ashamed about my lack of education, but it is no one's responsibility to educate me."

"I deserve to be held accountable for my actions," she added. "I will never grow unless I recognize what I have done is wrong. I don't think one apology means that I deserve your forgiveness, but rather I hope I can earn your forgiveness through my future actions."

Franchise stars speak out

Lindsay, who hosts a Bachelor Nation podcast and has made frequent cameos on the show, said that she will not renew her contract with the franchise when it expires. 

"I'm exhausted. I have truly had enough," Lindsay said on Friday's episode of her podcast "Higher Learning." 

"My entire reason for doing 'The Bachelorette' — and I was lucky that it worked out for me in the most beautiful way in finding Bryan — is that I wanted to be representative as a Black woman to this audience. And I wanted to pave the way for more people to have this opportunity," Lindsay said on the podcast.

"But how much more do I want to be affiliated with this? How much more can I take of things like this? I said I was gonna leave if they didn't have leads of color. Okay, they did that, and they made some other changes. They hired a diversity consultant — who didn't attend the class? Did Chris Harrison not sit through that? I'm confused as to how you could have whole consultants working for you, yet what happened just happened."

"I can't take it anymore," Lindsay said. "I'm contractually bound in some ways. But when it's up, I am too. I can't do it anymore."

James has also spoken out in support of Lindsay. 

Matt James shared his support for Rachel Lindsay on his Instagram Story. Matt James / Instagram

"I am beyond grateful to have Rachel as a mentor during this season," James wrote on his Instagram Story on Friday. "Your advocacy of BIPOC people in the franchise is invaluable, I stand with you and the rest of the women advocating for change and accountability."

Tayshia Adams, the most recent Bachelorette, said on her Instagram Story on Friday that she is "really hurt and disappointed and confused" by the "ignorance" she's seen surrounding conversations about race this week. 

Adams, who is Black, added that she is "really hurt" by the response to Kirkconnell's actions, which she called blatantly racist.

A slew of contestants from Adams' season shared a joint message to Instagram on Friday, "denouncing racist behavior and any defense thereof." They added that they "stand united" with Lindsay. 

Season 25 contestants also posted a joint statement on Instagram on Thursday denouncing any "defense of racism." 

"Any defense of racist behavior denies the lived and continued experiences of BIPOC individuals," the statement reads. "These experiences are not to be exploited or tokenized." 

"Rachel Lindsay continues to advocate with 'grace' for individuals who identify as BIPOC within this franchise," it concludes. "Just because she is speaking the loudest, doesn't mean she is alone. We stand with her, we hear her, and we advocate for change alongside her."

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