Does ‘The Bachelor’ Matt James propose to Atlanta’s Rachael Kirkconnell in the finale?

The sticky issue of race clogged up this entire evening
Matt James on the season 25 finale of "The Bachelor" decides who to propose to - or  not.  (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Matt James on the season 25 finale of "The Bachelor" decides who to propose to - or not. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

The dating show that redefined roses and failed relationships is back at it for a 25th time with its first Black “Bachelor,” Matt James.

Not surprisingly, race muddled the season and James’ final pick: Cumming’s Rachael Kirkconnell.

In the final pre-taped episode, James did not propose to Kirkconnell, a 24-year-old graphic designer from Cumming. But he told her he loved her and she returned the favor. He wanted to wait and have them just date.

For a time, they had a honeymoon period. But in January, online sleuths found social media posts she “liked” featuring Confederate flags and QAnon conspiracies and, worse, photos of her attending an antebellum plantation-themed party in 2018 while she was in college.

Although Kirkconnell apologized in a statement, this fueled a new controversy. Host Chris Harrison defended her photos in a way that came across as insensitive and ultimately he chose to step away from the show entirely. ABC hired a replacement host to do the “After the Final Rose” special Monday night, a Black man and author named Emmanuel Acho. The network also hired two new hosts for the upcoming season of “The Bachelorette.”

During the “After the Final Rose” program, James said he had a falling out with Kirkconnell after he found out the social media pictures were real. He decided they should break up while she works on herself.

His most pointed statement: “Rachael may not understand what it means to be Black in America.”

Emmanuel Acho interviews Rachael Kirkconnell during the "After the Final Rose" show. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

Credit: ABC

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Credit: ABC

Acho, in an interview with Kirkconnell. said he thought what she did by attending that party was “racially insensitive” and “racially ignorant” but not necessarily racist per se.

Kirkconnell said that in 2018, she chose not to think about what the entire party meant and how hurtful it was to Black people. She didn’t even realize while taping “The Bachelor” that these photos could damage her in any way. They never crossed her mind.

“I lost the love of my life,” Kirkconnell said, “but I hurt him while doing so.”

Acho: “You still love him?”

Kirkconnell: “I do and I always will.”

Acho probed James about why he broke up instead of educating her himself. He said he wasn’t really in a good place to be her teacher.

The producers brought James and Kirkconnell together.

She apologized to him. “For you to end things, I realize that must have been hard for you,” she said to James. “I’m really sorry I hurt you.”

He was silent.

Acho: “How hard is this on you to think the woman you love and loved, so torn up over hurting you and over losing you?”

James: “Um... It’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating. It’s just disappointing.”

More silence as they looked at each other.

Acho: “What else do you want to share with her?”

James was silent for many more seconds: 10 seconds. 15 seconds. 20 seconds. 25 seconds. 30 seconds. 40 seconds. This is an eternity for any TV show.

After a commercial break, he finally spoke. “The most disappointing thing for me was having to explain to you why what I saw was problematic and why I was so upset. That’s why it was problematic. When I’m in a relationship, it means I’m committed to that person... When I questioned our relationship, it was in the context of you not fully understanding my Blackness and what it means to be a Black man in America and what it would mean for our kids when I saw those things floating around the Internet.”

“It broke my heart because this is the last conversation I thought we would be having. I didn’t sign up to have this conversation,” he added. “And I knew that I had to take a step back for you to put in the work you outlined you needed to do. That’s something you need to do on your own. That’s why we can’t be in a relationship.”

Kirkconnell: “You are the only reason I decided to do the show. That includes every single part of you. That obviously includes you being a Black man. I never experienced a love like this. I don’t see anyone else out there for me. At this point, I don’t see how I can have these same feelings for someone else.”

Acho asked if reconciliation is even remotely in the cards.

James didn’t answer the question directly, merely saying she needed to “do the work,” a phrase he used multiple times.

The awkwardness and tension in the air was heavy until the end.

It’s clear none of this would have happened if James had chosen Michelle Young ― who is Black ― instead. The good news: she will be one of two “Bachelorettes” this summer.