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Matt James Gave the Antebellum Party Girl His Final Rose and It Didn’t Go Well

Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC

Plagued by an endless parade of awfulness as the first Black Bachelor, Matt James ultimately concluded his season on The Bachelor as a single man.

As revealed on the show’s Monday finale, James selected controversial contestant Rachael Kirkconnell over Michelle Young to receive his final rose. Instead of a proposal, however, James offered Kirkconnell a continued commitment of being romantic partners, as he didn’t feel he was prepared to become engaged following a candid conversation with his mother about the infidelity issues that plagued his parents’ marriage. “As I’m wrestling with what I’m gonna do today, the easy thing for me to do would me to brush those feelings off and make you happy, and that’s to propose to you today,” he told her at their fireside rose ceremony. “But I couldn’t live with myself if I put you what my mom’s been through I’ve seen what rushing into a proposal and marriage can do with my family, and it’s ugly. It’s not what I want for you or for us. That’s why I can’t propose to you today.”

James repeatedly stated that he loved Kirkconnell, and he could see her as “my wife and the mother of my kids.” He added, “When I think about the life I want to live, I think about living that life with you. I want to leave here with you and connect.” Despite a lack of proposal, Kirkconnell seemed elated to continue her relationship with James, and the couple departed The Bachelor in good spirits.

This all took a 180 turn at the ensuing After the Final Rose episode, which was pre-recorded with guest host Emmanuel Acho in early March. James, now aware of Kirkconnell’s self-described racist and offensive past, announced that he broke up with her over the phone after learning the full extent of her actions. “I dismissed them as rumors because that’s what they were to me,” James explained about his thought process. “When you find out that they are, it just makes you question everything.” He continued:

As someone who grew up in the South, it takes me to a place that I don’t often like to thing about. I wasn’t okay. It was in that moment and the conversation that I had, that Rachael might not understand what it means to be Black in America. It’s heartbreaking. If you don’t understand that something like that is problematic in 2018, there’s a lot of me that you won’t understand. It’s as simple as that.

When asked by Acho how he would respond to viewers who’d argue that Kirkconnell’s behavior occurred several years ago, James responded with: “You know what was a long time ago? Plantations.” He also stated that he supported Kirkconnell’s continued efforts to learn and grow from her past, and he was “looking forward to seeing her put in that work.” James clarified, though, that he didn’t think it was possible for the couple to reconcile.

Kirkconnell’s history of racism has cast an unpleasant shadow over James’s Bachelor season since it was exposed in the public eye in mid-February, and it snowballed into a greater racial reckoning for the franchise in subsequent weeks. At the time, several social media users unearthed Kirkconnell’s history of “liking” photos of Confederate flags, as well as photos of Kirkconnell gleefully attending an antebellum-South-themed party in college. A user on TikTok also alleged that Kirkconnell bullied her in high school for romantically pursuing Black men.

Despite initially staying silent on the scandal, Kirkconnell, by then a clear frontrunner on James’s season, released a statement on February 11 to apologize for her “racist and offensive” actions. “My age or when it happened does not excuse anything,” she wrote. “They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.” Kirkconnell doubled down with a video apology a few weeks later on February 26, urging people to “please stop” defending her past. “I’ve gotten a lot of people asking me, ‘Well, what have you done to change since then?’ and I’ve also had a lot of people message me saying that they aren’t understanding why people are so upset, but they want to, and they’ve asked for resources, which I think is great,” she explained. “But then there’s also people that’s messaging me saying, ‘You’ve done nothing wrong, don’t listen to people.’ I’m just, I’m tired of getting all of this and not saying anything.” Kirkconnell has also posted a series of Instagram Stories of the aforementioned resources, which include Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.

Amid all this, longstanding franchise host Chris Harrison thought it would be a terrific idea to pledge his full support to Kirkconnell. During an Extra interview with former Bachelorette lead Rachel Lindsay on February 9, Harrison questioned why people were upset by Kirkconnell’s racist past, arguing that the “woke police” were trying to take her down. He also expressed confusion over the timeline of Kirkconnell’s actions. “Where is this lens were holding up and was that lens available and were we all looking through it in 2018?” he said about the antebellum-party photos. “Is it not a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021?”

Following a public uproar, Harrison tried to do damage control, announcing he would temporarily step back from hosting duties and apologizing for his “imperfect” behavior during a March 4 interview on Good Morning America. It wasn’t successful: Harrison won’t be returning for the next season of The Bachelorette. Former Bachelorette stars Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe will co-host instead.

Remember when the biggest Bachelor-adjacent scandal involved the lead’s mother being a total asshole? Can’t believe we’re yearning for those days.

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