Throughout Matt James’ groundbreaking Bachelor season, controversy dominated the narrative. The journey ended on a rocky note, with James breaking up with Rachael Kirkconnell after photos of her attending an offensive party resurfaced, among other accusations. James talked about the whirlwind on Good Morning America with Michael Strahan, following a memorable March 15 After the Final Rose special during which he revealed why he broke up with Kirkconnell.
A brief refresher: Photos emerged of Kirkconnell wearing a Native American-themed costume and attending an antebellum plantation party on separate occasions, and she was also accused of liking racist posts on social media and bullying an old classmate for dating Black men. Kirkconnell’s actions did not only affect her relationship with James and Bachelor viewers — Chris Harrison also infamously came to her defense in a conversation with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay. He stepped away from the franchise for an indefinite amount of time after realizing he was “wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism,” he wrote on Instagram.
Speaking of Kirkconnell’s past, James said, “It hit me like a ton of bricks.” He then told Strahan, “I felt the weight of everything that I was carrying throughout the season — and with what we were dealing with as a country, and having to explain that, why it was problematic to me and our relationship — which was extremely difficult.”
James went on to say that Kirkconnell’s past behavior deterred him from “the ultimate goal” of marriage because he feared she “might not understand what it means to be with someone like me.”
Despite the fractured ending, James doesn’t regret how it all turned out. “The conversations that have come from everything that’s taken place are more important than anything I could have left with. And if that means that I leave under the circumstances that I left with, then so be it,” he said. Part of that “everything that’s taken place,” of course, includes a hosting swap from Chris Harrison to Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe, though fans and franchise stars are still hoping for a more direct response from ABC.
Still, James acknowledged that he would like to have done some things differently, especially when it comes to the topics he discussed with contestants. “A lot of the time spent during filming and having those conversations was amongst the other women of color — the conversations that I had with Chelsea, the conversations that I had with Michelle,” he said. “And I think that we could have had those conversations amongst the white women who were there as well. But hindsight’s 20/20, and I probably should have asked more clarifying questions.”
James also addressed the difficulty of being the first Black Bachelor and pairing up with someone who turned out to have a racist past. “That’s the frustrating part about the position that I’m in, is having to explain not only to Rachael but to the rest of America why things like that are problematic because we don’t have that chance to have that ignorance,” he said. “Think about Breonna Taylor, think about Tamir Rice. They didn’t have that opportunity to have ignorance.”
Ultimately, James said he is looking forward to what can come from this. “I think that as the love stories become more diverse, the people that tell them should become just as diverse,” he said. “And, there’s way more qualified women and men of color who can step in and fill those roles, and I’m excited to see the institutional change take place. And I’m honored to be a part of it.”