Bachelor season 25 contestant Rachael Kirkconnell broke her silence after photos surfaced of her at a plantation-themed party.
“While there have been rumors circulating, there have also been truths that have come to light that I need to address. I hear you, and I’m here to say I was wrong,” she wrote via Instagram on Thursday, February 11. “At one point, I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.”
The 24-year-old continued, “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 am learning and will continue to learn how to be antiracist, because it’s important to speak up in the moment and not after you’re called out. If you are a person who doesn’t understand the offense in question, I urge you to learn from my mistakes and encourage you to use them as a teachable moment.”
The graphic designer first came under fire after the January 4 premiere of Matt James’ season when a TikTok user accused Kirkconnell of being racist in high school. Screenshots of photos Kirkconnell “liked” that featured her friends posing in front of Confederate flags subsequently surfaced via social media. Earlier this month, a Twitter user posted a photo of Kirkconnell and her sorority sisters at Georgia College enjoying an “Old South” bash on a plantation in 2018.
“As for my family, I love them and how they raised me to be my own individual. They have always encouraged me to have my own views, opinions, and beliefs,” Kirkconnell wrote on Thursday. “As I was thinking about what I wanted to say, I couldn’t help but think about how sick people must be of reading these kinds of statements; how a person didn’t realize the trauma that their actions would inflict on other people. It must get so exhausting. I want to put my energy towards preventing people from making the same offensive mistakes that I made in the first place, and I hope I can prove this to you moving forward.”
She concluded her post, “Racial progress and unity are impossible without (white) accountability, and I deserve to be held accountable for my actions. 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.”
James, who made history as the first Black Bachelor, previously encouraged Bachelor Nation to “be really careful” about what they are posting on social media when asked about Kirkconnell.
“Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people’s lives. So, I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will have her time to speak on that,” the 29-year-old former football player told Entertainment Tonight on February 2.
Chris Harrison, for his part, told Extra that he believes that the show didn’t need to address the controversy before Kirkconnell did.
“I haven’t talked to Rachael about it, we all need to have a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion,” the host said on February 9. “I have seen some stuff online. Again, this judge, jury, executioner thing where people are just tearing this girl’s life apart … Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this … I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago that’s it. … My guess? These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time, they were 18 years old. Now, does that make it OK? I don’t know Rachel, you tell me. Were we all looking through [that lens] in 2018?”
Harrison added that Kirkconnell wasn’t present at the upcoming Women Tell All special. “We didn’t get into the Rachael of it all, but Rachael will have her time to speak,” he said. “Hopefully, I will be there to have that debate with her and I will push her.”
After the interview — and Harrison’s use of the term “woke police” — made headlines, he apologized for defending Kirkconnell.
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“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,” he wrote on February 10 via Instagram. “I also apologize to my friend Rachel Lindsay for not listening to her better on a topic she has 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’s absence at the Women Tell All taping may be a sign that she’s in the final three. James previously opened up to Us Weekly about the Georgia native, who was the first contestant he told he was falling in love.
“Night one, what she chose to use her time with me to speak about was very intentional. And it wasn’t something that wasn’t going to progress our relationship,” he gushed to Us on February 2. “And then when I saw on the first group date, and I’m referring to all these instances that aren’t one-on-ones because that was how our relationship was lived out, you know, I hadn’t had that one-on-one time with her yet. And when I had that day to spend with her and really get to know her better, it just affirmed everything I had already felt.”
James added: “Whenever I felt something, I said it. And I only said things that I meant and felt. So, if [the word love] got tossed around a few times, it’s because I felt it. And if it doesn’t, then that means that connection hadn’t gotten to that point yet.”
The Bachelor airs on ABC Mondays at 8 p.m. ET.