Holding herself accountable. Ellie Kemper apologized for her past participation in Missouri’s Veiled Prophet ball after photos of her as a teenager resurfaced in May.
“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,” the Office alum, 41, wrote via Instagram on Monday, June 7. “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.”
In her apology, the former Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star asserted, “I unequivocally deplore, denounce and reject white supremacy. At the same time, I acknowledge that because of my race and my privilege, I am the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards.”
Kemper came under fire last month after a Twitter user posted an old newspaper clipping of the actress being crowned at the St. Louis Veiled Prophet ceremony. The organization is said to have excluded Black members and celebrated wealthy, white community members instead. In 1999, while she was a freshman at Princeton University, Kemper was named the pageant’s “Queen of Love and Beauty.”
When the picture first went viral, the Bridesmaids star wanted to believe that the “detractors were getting it all wrong,” but she quickly changed her tune.
“I realized that a lot of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I’ve spent my life supporting and agreeing with,” she continued. “I believe strongly in the values of kindness, integrity and inclusiveness. I try to live my life in accordance with these values. 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 in a positive light.”
Kemper’s candid post was met with supportive comments from Katie Couric, Mindy Kaling and Wendi McLendon-Covey, along with grateful messages from fans who thanked the My Squirrel Days author for owning up to her wrongdoing.
“I want to apologize to the people I’ve disappointed, and I promise that moving forward I will listen, continue to educate myself, and use my privilege in support of the better society I think we’re capable of becoming,” Kemper wrote on Monday.
Amid the backlash, the Veiled Prophet Organization defended their history in a statement to USA Today, describing the group as being “dedicated to civic progress, economic contributions and charitable causes in St. Louis.”
“Our organization believes in and promotes inclusion, diversity and equality for this region,” the statement noted. “We absolutely reject racism and have never partnered or associated with any organization that harbors these beliefs.”