Ellie Kemper apologizes for participating in racist beauty pageant "rejects white supremacy"

Kemper wrote, "Ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved"

By Kylie Cheung
Published June 7, 2021 4:24PM (EDT)
Actress Ellie Kemper (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)
Actress Ellie Kemper (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

If you've been on the internet in the past week, then you've probably seen the controversy surrounding actress and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" star Ellie Kemper. Several Twitter users exposed Kemper's past participation in a debutante ball with a racist history, called the Veiled Prophet Ball. Kemper even won the pageant in 1999, and was crowned "Veiled Prophet Queen of Love and Beauty."

On Monday afternoon, Kemper released a statement on Instagram apologizing for her participation in the pageant, which is a long-held tradition in her hometown St. Louis. The pageant was founded in 1878 by a Confederate Army officer and his brother, and banned nonwhite people from participating until 1979. It also notably has used imagery that many social media users have compared to symbols and paraphernalia of the KKK.

In her statement, Kemper acknowledged that "the century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past." While Kemper says she wasn't aware of the Veiled Prophet Ball's organizational history when she participated in 1999, she wrote, "Ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved.

"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 continued. "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.

"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," she wrote.

When Kemper's participation in the Veiled Prophet Ball first came to light, she was widely criticized and even called the "KKK Princess" by some social media users. The pageant and its racist roots are well worth criticizing, as well as persistent racism and elitism in the pageant industry, broadly. For her own part, in her statement, Kemper has made it clear that she "unequivocally deplore[s], renounce[s] and reject[s] white supremacy" — while also acknowledging that "because of [her] race and privilege, [she is] the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and rewards."

You can read Kemper's full statement in her Instagram post, below.


Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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