Over Memorial Day weekend, some decades-old photos (from 1999) of The Office and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper caused a fuss on social media. In the process, Kemper’s participation in a debutante-styled event, called the Veiled Prophet Ball (in St. Louis) was resurfaced. Kemper — who was a 19-year-old college freshman at the time, as detailed by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch — had been crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty at the ball. And given the event’s racist origins (which were spotlighted in 2014 by The Atlantic), there was a swift pile-on, yet many did not agree with the rush on Twitter to “cancel” Kemper.
A week later, Kemper has addressed the subject with a lengthy statement on her Instagram page. In doing so, she has apologized and explained that she wasn’t aware of the Veiled Prophet Ball’s history, but she’s not making excuses:
“Hi guys – when I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown. The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past. 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… I want to apologize to the people I’ve disappointed, and I promise that moving forward I will listen, continue to educated myself, and use my privilege in support of the better society I think we’re capable of becoming.”
She made her position on white supremacy clear as well:
“I unequivocally deplore, denounce and reject white supremacy. At the same time, I acknowledge that because of my face and my privilege, I am the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards.”
Kemper’s taking ownership of her involvement and viewing it as a learning experience. She also wrote that she was initially tempted to believe that the criticism was “all wrong,” but she has “realized that a lot of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I’ve spent my life supporting and agreeing with.” She adds that she believes in “kindness, integrity, and inclusiveness,” and “[i]f 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.”
You can read Kemper’s full statement below: