Why Emmanuel Acho Is 'Beyond Thrilled' About Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell's Relationship

·5 min read
Emmanuel Acho, Matt James, Rachael Kirkconnell
Emmanuel Acho, Matt James, Rachael Kirkconnell

Cindy Ord/Getty Images; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Emmanuel Acho is weighing in on Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell's relationship.

On Tuesday's episode of PodcastOne's Off The Vine with Kaitlyn Bristowe, Acho, 30, shared his thoughts on the first Black Bachelor, James, 29, pursuing a relationship with finalist Kirkconnell, 24, after racially insensitive photos of her surfaced online, including images of her attending an Antebellum plantation-themed formal in 2018. She later apologized, noting that her "ignorance was racist" and that she was "wrong."

"I haven't commented on this publicly yet," Acho said on the podcast after Bristowe asked what he thinks of James and Kirkconnell getting back together. "I hit up Matt privately, I hit up Rachael privately, but never publicly. I'm happy for them."

Acho, an author and former NFL linebacker, hosted The Bachelor's After the Final Rose special in March, where he hashed out the situation between the two after they ended their relationship in the wake of the controversy. During the special, James said he couldn't "be in a relationship" with Kirkconnell, but that he was looking forward to her putting in the work to change.

In the months that followed, James and Kirkconnell rekindled their romance and are currently together.

"I knew they at least needed to be together in the interim," Acho said on Off the Vine. "Why? Because he fell in love with an individual. He fell in love with an individual not cognizant of the individual's past actions. Now, the individual's past actions don't necessarily define the individual in the present, unless that's still who she is."

"And so, as I'm sitting there asking Matt all these questions [on After the Final Rose], I'm just like, he's not going to be with her right now because he can't, and I will say what Matt couldn't say and maybe Matt wouldn't want to say, but as a Black man, y'all don't understand," he added.

RELATED: Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell on Overcoming 'Difficult' Time in Their Romance

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Acho said James was facing pressure in the position he had been put in, noting that if he were to pursue the relationship with Kirkconnell in that "climate," with "the whole world calling her racist," he'd be called "all types of names I won't even utter."

"Matt's hands were tied," said Acho. "I tried to untie them, you know? I asked the question — I don't think they ended up running it — but I asked, 'Hey, would you be in this relationship if not for pressure from the Black community?' ... I tried to let the world know, like, 'Hey, Matt, blink twice!' It's impossible, and I'm speaking as a Black man. It would have been impossible for him to leave the stage with her without getting crucified."

"But, what people did not see is after the camera cut, they left arm over arm. ... Now, he was crying and he wouldn't console her in front of the cameras, but as soon as they left, it was his arm over hers and there was still so much affection," added Acho, who said he's "beyond thrilled" to see them back together now.

"It makes me happy to see them happy. Obviously, let's make sure we say this: Rachael continuing to do the growth, continuing to learn, continuing to grow. It's by no means the end for Rachael and her progress, and I think she would admit that," he said. "But I didn't want the polarization of racism in our society to keep them from being together."

RELATED VIDEO: Matt James Says He's 'Pursuing' a Relationship with Ex Rachael Kirkconnell — I'm 'Focusing on It'

While Kirkconnell received James' final rose, they revealed on After the Final Rose that they had broken up after the photos resurfaced. In her apology, Kirkconnell said she is "learning and will continue to learn how to be antiracist."

The following month, in April, James flew Kirkconnell to New York City to "stay with him," a source close to Kirkconnell told PEOPLE at the time. According to the insider, she believed they were going to mend their relationship and was disappointed when that didn't happen right away.

But the pair eventually made it official, with James confirming to PEOPLE later that month that he and Kirkconnell were exclusively dating again. He later revealed that they got back together after she gave him an "ultimatum."

"She was like, 'If you're going to make this work, let's do it. But, if you're not going to make it work, I'm going to let you do your own thing,'" he said on the Pomp podcast at the time. "That's really all I needed. It was an ultimatum that I needed. It's been great. It was honestly a commitment that we made to each other that we were going to work on the relationship."

James continued, "There were rough patches in our relationship [and] we actually broke up for a moment. We're back together [now]. Everything we've been through, everything she's been through, she's stuck right by my side. She's continued to have a positive attitude. It's one of the many things I love about her."

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