'The Bachelor' star Matt James: Black people aren't afforded an 'I didn't know any better' excuse, why should Rachael Kirkconnell be?
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 03/31/2021
The Bachelor star Matt James says Black people aren't given the benefit of the doubt or afforded the privilege of not knowing any better, so he doesn't feel that should be an acceptable excuse for racist behavior from Rachael Kirkconnell or other Americans.
Matt announced onThe Bachelor: After the Final Rose special earlier this month he had decided to break up with his Season 25 winner, Rachael, shortly after she publicly apologized on February 11 for her racially-ignorant and racially-insensitive actions in her past.
Matt explained on ATFR he had initially brushed off racism allegations against Rachael as rumors and wanted to support and protect her, but once more evidence emerged of her wrongdoing, he had to "check" himself and how he personally felt about continuing a relationship with her.
"It's like I said on After the Final Rose, when you see things like that, there are parts of me that [Rachael doesn't] understand and you have to take a step back and allow that person to put in the work," Matt said during a recent appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast.
Matt explained that when he says "put in the work," he means "educate yourself."
"It's hiring a person of color or woman of color to show you the nuances of how to act and how not to act," Matt said.
Rachael was accused of bullying a girl in high school for dating a Black man -- which Rachael's mother Kim Kirkconnell insists isn't true -- and recently liking offensive photos on Instagram, such as two friends posing in front of a Confederate flag.
In addition to an image of Rachael dressed in Native-American costume that circulated online, photos also resurfaced of Rachael attending an antebellum-plantation themed "Old South" fraternity party at Georgia College & State University in 2018.
Rachael admitted on After the Final Rose she had been "living in ignorance" at the time and never stopped to think about the people she might be hurting or the trauma her behavior could cause.
"Some people didn't grow up in diverse backgrounds like I did. I grew up with Black, white, Jewish, Asian communities all around," Matt shared on the podcast.
"And I'm not going to make excuses for anybody, but those type of relationships I had growing up allowed me to appreciate those cultures and the things that you should respect and general decency."
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Matt claimed on ATFR that Rachael initially didn't understand why her antebellum-party photos were "problematic" for him and their relationship, which led him to the conclusion Rachael simply didn't understand his life or perspective as Black man in America.
"The tough thing is having to explain to America why those pictures are problematic to me. You hear people harping on forgiveness and I forgave her when she told me," Matt said of Rachael, "but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed and I don't want her to do better."
"And for that to take place," he added, "I have to take a step back and let her pursue that."
Bill asked Matt how he'd respond if Rachael's excuse was something along the lines of, "I didn't know what the party [represented or] understand the ramifications of that."
"And maybe that's really how she felt and it was genuine, but to you, it's a bigger issue than that because there's a fundamental misunderstanding or lack of knowledge that she has of things that are integral to you," Bill pointed out.
"So that almost made you think maybe, 'I don't belong with this person?'"
Matt replied, "Yes, it's frustrating, Bill, because there's a lot of situations you've seen over the past four years in our country where Black people aren't given the benefit of the doubt, you know? Like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor."
"There's no like, 'Oh I didn't' -- like, there's no taking that back. And as Black people, we're not afforded that same privilege of not knowing any better," Matt noted.
"So it's hard to hear that and have to explain that to people who -- and I'm not saying to Rachael, but just the broader audience in general -- why that is problematic. And that's what was kind of frustrating for me, because I felt like a lot of that teaching and learning was put on me."
After announcing his split from Rachael amid her racism controversy, Matt was apparently subjected to harassment, verbal attacks and hate from people for not sticking by Rachael's side and guiding her through this learning process.
But Matt apparently felt a weight on his shoulders he doesn't think he should have to bear.
"It's like, I just felt this pressure to just make sure everybody -- again, that's not what I signed up for," Matt acknowledged.
"And that's why Black people in all these different situations are exhausted about the emotional labor that goes into having to explain to every single [person] 'Why is this, why is that?' and it's like that's not our job. So that's where it's just, like, it was frustrating."
Rachael ultimately defended Matt, the love of her life, against the "repulsive" attacks and "racist insults" she had seen from people online.
And just two days after Rachael slammed trolls on her Instagram Stories and said she respects the decisions Matt has made, Matt wiped his own Instagram account clean and deleted all of its content to seemingly start fresh.
"He's in a good spot. He's good. People don't need to worry about Matt," Matt's older brother John James recently told Us Weekly.
John added of The Bachelor star, "It's kind of like he's going through a detox phase, of all the stuff that he was dealing with ABC and being in the spotlight and doing interviews. He's in a better place."
Matt confessed to Bill that his feelings for Rachael won't go away overnight and he doesn't think anyone is "irredeemable."
"I'm just solely focused on getting back into that meaningful work in the community and centering myself around projects that are going to elevate all the work that I've been working on doing in the city and special interest things that I appreciate outside of reality television," Matt said.