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"The Bachelor" Matt James speaks out about controversy surrounding his season: "Devastating and heartbreaking"

"The Bachelor" star Matt James spoke out on Monday about the controversy surrounding his season of the long-running dating show. James, the first Black bachelor on the franchise in nearly 20 years, said in a statement it has been "devastating and heartbreaking" to learn about "incredibly disappointing" photos of contestant Rachael Kirkconnell and subsequent comments made by host Chris Harrison.

In his statement, posted on Instagram, James said the past few weeks have been some of the most challenging of his life, and that he, like the audience, is learning about the situations involving Kirkconnell and Harrison in real time. While there are still several episodes in the season left to air, he said "it is important that I take the time to address the troubling information that has come to light since we wrapped filming."

Harrison, who has hosted the show since 2002, announced earlier this month he is stepping away from the show for a "period of time." His announcement came after a controversial interview on "Extra" with the first Black bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay, in which he defended current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who has been accused of racist acts.

Harrison received backlash from fans after saying, in part, "we all need to have a little grace" for Kirkconnell, who came under fire after photos of her at an antebellum-themed party in 2018 resurfaced this month. Both Kirkconnell and Harrison have apologized. 

Lindsay, who conducted the interview with Harrison, announced last week that she will not renew her contract with the show as a result of Harrison's comments.

In his statement, James said: "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 said it reflected a "much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years."

CBS News has reached out to Harrison, Kirkconnell and ABC, which airs "The Bachelor," for comment and is awaiting response.

Since the show began, there have been three Black leads: Lindsay, James, and Tayshia Adams, all of whom starred on the show within the last four years. 

Lindsay has been vocal about the show's lack of diversity, and last year wrote a blog post about her continued involvement with the franchise. She said if changes were not made "on the inside and outside of the franchise," she would disassociate from it. She listed several suggested changes, including casting leads "that are truly interested in dating outside of their race," diversifying producers, and not "creating problematic story lines for people of color."

Following her blog post, as well as an online petition created by fans, the show cast James as its first Black male lead.

In his statement on Monday, James reflected on his role as the first Black bachelor. "This moment has sparked critical conversation and reporting, raised important questions, and resulted in inspiring displays of solidarity from The Bachelor nation," James said. "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."

James said he will continue to process the experience and that fans will hear more from him in the end. "My greatest prayer is that this is an inflection point that results in real institutional change for the better," he said.  

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