The Bachelor Redemption: Now Begins the Chris Harrison Apology Tour

Illustration for article titled The Bachelor Redemption: Now Begins the Chris Harrison Apology Tour
Image: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

The Bachelor host Chris Harrison’s redemption arc has begun: first stop, Good Morning America.

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Speaking with Michael Strahan, Harrison apologized for defending Rachael Kirkconnell—contestant on Matt James’ season of The Bachelor, the first ever with a black lead—for attending an Antebellum-themed sorority party in 2018 and for liking a photo containing a confederate flag. “It was a mistake. I made a mistake,” Harrison begins, speaking in a tone familiar to anyone who has seen the host attempt to navigate a dramatic moment on reality television. “I am an imperfect man, I made a mistake and I own that. I believe that mistake doesn’t reflect who I am or what I stand for. I am committed to progress, not just for myself, also for the franchise.”

He says he was wrong to suggest that there is a difference between attending an Antebellum party in 2018 or 2021 in an interview with Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, and for using the term “woke police.” “I am saddened and shocked at how insensitive I was in that interview... I didn’t speak from my heart, which is to say that I stand against all forms of racism,” he continued. “I’m sorry to Rachel Lindsay, and I’m sorry to the Black community.”

Strahan says Harrison has been seeing a “race leader and strategist,” along with “faith leaders and scholars, like Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.”

“Dr. Dyson often talks to me about counsel. Not cancel,” Harrison added. “And that is full accountability, understanding what you didn’t understand, owning that, learning from that, seeking counsel often in the community that you hurt, learning from them, listening, gaining experience, knowledge and moving forward.” I understand what Harrison’s going for here, but it sure does sound like he’s putting the onus on the Black community to teach him about racism. And did he just learn that cancel culture isn’t real?

Anyway, Harrison also said he plans to be back to his old job, so, I guess the dream of a Harrison-less franchise is dead.

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When the segment cuts away from the interview, Strahan reveals he felt like he got “nothing more than a surface response” from Harrison, adding, “obviously he is a man who wants to clearly stay on the show, but only time will tell if there’s any meaning behind his words.” Uh, have you seen the show before, bud? Depth doesn’t live there—and neither does true accountability.

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DISCUSSION

CaptOtter

I understand what Harrison’s going for here, but it sure does sound like he’s putting the onus on the Black community to teach him about racism.

This is the kind of situation in which literally anything the apologizer does can, and will, be construed as the “wrong” thing to do by at least some segment of commentators. In this specific instance, if he were to go “do the work” of educating himself with white people, the criticism would be that he hadn’t bothered to speak with any actual BIPOC; or some other form of “just like a white man to say something racist, and then go talk to a bunch of other white people about it.” Instead, he’s working with and talking to Black people about it, and so he’s opened himself to the criticism of forcing Black people do a bunch of emotional labor they shouldn’t have to do in the first place. And neither of these are necessarily “incorrect” takes—in fact, there’s probably no such thing as an incorrect take on someone’s attempt to make amends in the wake of a sociopolitical trespass, because the shame, embarrassment, scorn in the midst of the attempt is the point.

The economic incentives to do negative takes on people “on an apology tour,” or otherwise seeming to try to make amends, are such that there’s rarely if ever going to be a uniformly satisfactory way of handling the scandal or comeback; and because there’s no accepted handbook or procedure for sort of thing, there’s more or less infinite cover for someone with half a brain (and 3-6 undergraduate credit hours of critical theory) to concoct a reason why any given strategy, apology, or action is bad or “the worst.” Point of fact, some people will say that the only redemption for Harrison would require that he voluntarily forfeit his position so that a BIPOC can permanently take over. Harrison’s obviously not going to do that, so when he goes back to work, that camp basically gets a bag of infinite shade around which to build clickbait articles in perpetuity whenever the Bachelor franchise is even tangentially in the news. It’s practically a win-win in that respect, because everyone basically gets what they want.

So, I think Harrison is probably doing the smart thing here. Given the likelihood that he was never ever going to satisfy everyone, probably the most effective thing was to pick an approach and just go for it. It’s tempting to say that the “best” approach is whatever sincerely brings the person into the proper frame of mind regarding the issue they previously demonstrated a lack of understanding about (i.e., which got them in trouble in the first place,) but that presupposes that the purpose of public shaming and the like is anything but punitive. People don’t want to see that the person has grown, they want the catharsis and satisfaction of knowing the person suffered (even if only a little and temporarily,) and has had to kowtow, prostrate, and humble themselves before the aggrieved party. I’m not even saying this is a particularly bad thing — asking for a pound of flesh and making it hurt is a perfectly human response to someone making you angry.