Last week, a post on social media went viral that included a revelation about Ellie Kemper—star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and a surprisingly capable late-addition to the Office ensemble—had participated in a debutante event in St. Louis in 1999 known as (or at least formerly known as) the Veiled Prophet Ball, a thing that sounds kind of fucked-up and scary even before you learn that it started as a racist celebration of supposed white greatness where rich white people would be paraded in front of everyone else to remind them of their place. The Veiled Prophet Ball, which was later renamed Fair St. Louis, would also involve a lavish ceremony where a secret committee would choose a secret man to serve as the Veiled Prophet, and he would then choose for himself a Queen Of Love And Beauty and present her with some kind of fancy bullshit gift that rich white people like (such as pearls or a tiara). This all comes from a 2014 Atlantic piece that suddenly enjoyed newfound relevance over the past week, with writer Scott Beauchamp also helpfully noting that Black and Jewish people were originally barred from joining the Veiled Prophet organization.
Kemper, whose father was the chairman of Commerce Bank and whose family is unsurprisingly very wealthy, was named Queen Of Love And Beauty in 1999 when she was 19, and a predictable controversy quickly surfaced surrounding her involvement in an organization with overtly racist beginnings. Now, almost a full week later, Kemper has finally decided to respond to the controversy by posting a statement on Instagram in which she distances herself from “the organization” (she doesn’t name it) and says that she “was old enough” at the time to have learned about it before getting involved.
She goes on to “unequivocally deplore, denounce, and reject white supremacy” while acknowledging that she has been “the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards” because of her race and her privilege.” Kemper also touches on why it took her so long to respond to the controversy, saying it’s a “very natural temptation” to respond to “internet criticism” by simply telling yourself that your critics are all wrong, but she says she started to realize at some point that “a lot of the forces behind the criticism” were groups that she has otherwise spent her life “supporting and agreeing with.” She also apologizes to anyone she’s disappointed and pledges to use her privilege to support a “better society.”