Actress Ellie Kemper has apologized for participating in a controversial ball when she was 19 years old. Photos of Kemper at the Veiled Prophet Ball recently resurfaced on social media, and people quickly criticized the St. Louis organization’s “racist” past and connections to the white supremacy.
“The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past,” Kemper said in a statement posted on Instagram on Monday. “I was not aware of this history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved.”
Kemper, who is best known for her comedic roles in “The Office” and the Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” was lambasted on social media when users recently brought up her participation in the ball. Kemper was crowned the “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the event in 1999, which was touted as a debutante celebration combined with the spirit of a Mardi Gras parade.
Twitter users brought up the group’s history in St. Louis, including the fact that it did not have any Black members until 1979, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. According to a 2014 Atlantic article, the secret society was originally created as “a response to growing labor unrest in the city, much of it involving cooperation between white and black workers,” and was intended to use heavy symbolism to remind both lower and upper class people of where they stood.
While the Veiled Prophet Organization was not associated with the Ku Klux Klan, some on social media began calling Kemper a “KKK princess,” as an image claiming to show an illustration of the first ever Veiled Prophet heavily resembled the Klan’s robes and hood.
In her statement, Kemper “unequivocally” denounced white supremacy, but acknowledged that she is part of a system of white privilege.
“There is a very natural temptation when you become the subject of internet criticism to tell yourself that your detractors are getting it all wrong,” Kemper wrote. “But at some point last week, I realized that a lot of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I’ve spent my life supporting and agreeing with. If my experience is an indication that organizations and institutions with pasts that fall short of these beliefs should be held to account, then I have to see this experience in a positive light.”
Kemper apologized to “all the people I’ve disappointed,” and said that in the future she will “listen, continue to educate myself, and use my privilege in support of the better society I think we’re capable of becoming.”