When producers of ABC’s “The Bachelor” cast their first Black lead, Matt James, the hope was fans criticizing the show for its lack of diversity would finally be satisfied. Instead, what many witnessed was a season shrouded in controversy — contestant Rachael Kirkconnell’s 2018 photo attending an Antebellum-era themed party at a plantation, and longtime host Chris Harrison’s departure after failing to condemn racism.
James, who is biracial, made his debut on the show last year for season 25. Looking back on his time searching for love on the show, James says it’s frustrating. The 30-year-old writes about his experience in his memoir, “First Impressions: Conversations With a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness.”
James’ casting was meant to break up the homogeneity of a show that had only cast white men as the lead and seldom selected non-white women as hopeful love interests. But even with James and 32 women of various ethnic backgrounds, “The Bachelor” alum claims the mark was still missed by tepid producers who shied away from airing conversations addressing race.
“I understand it, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you bring people of color into your space,” he wrote. “If they’re not willing to have that conversation, they should strongly consider not going there in the first place. There are things about being Black that people who aren’t Black can never understand. It’s too much for them to handle. But it’s my life.”
He continued, though disappointed, “I knew what I was signing up for. It wasn’t the right audience. My message was not the one that ‘The Bachelor’ was trying to promote across their franchise, which is fine. That’s on me.”
On social media criticisms arose by those unimpressed with James’ sharing of his experience.
“Matt James has a lot of nerve to be talking about the bachelor being racist (duh we know) when the call is very clearly coming from inside the house in this case,” wrote one person.
Another commented, “ Matt James: *writes a memoir about how the bachelor was racist.* Also Matt James: *bats aside every single WoC in his season to choose a racist white woman*”
Prior to handing out a single rose on the first episode, James said, “I don’t want to piss off Black people. I don’t want to piss off white people. Because I’m both of those.” Though the feat proved impossible when he chose Kirkconnell, whom he is still dating.
But, for critics hoping the book will reveal even more behind-the-scenes details of racist behaviors tethered to the long-running series, it’s best they look else where.
“I didn’t want to use that story for people to engage with my book,” James said. “There will be another Bachelor, and there will probably be another Black Bachelor, and there will be another tell-all book,” he continued. “I wasn’t interested in that. If that’s what interests fans, and that outweighs the personal things I want to share, then my book isn’t for them.”
Five years ago Rachel Lindsay made history when she became the first Black lead cast on “The Bachelorette.” In 2020 she told “Good Morning America,” “I was hoping, when I came on, to be a trailblazer and to increase diversity in the audience that watches it and also who comes on the show and who could potentially be the lead. I felt like the franchise had my back in that. But in the last three years, there really haven’t been changes made.”
Since Lindsay’s time on the show, only one other Black woman, Michelle Young, has been cast as the lead in season 18. Young was formerly a runner-up on “The Bachelor” but made bigger headlines when she became the first Black woman to choose a Black man in the final rose ceremony.