In a statement, the actress addressed her 1999 participation in a Missouri ball with a "racist, sexist and elitist past"

By Emily Strohm
June 07, 2021 02:11 PM
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Ellie Kemper has spoken out about her past participation in a controversial Missouri debutante ball.

Last week, the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt actress came under fire when photos surfaced of her being crowned the "Queen of Love and Beauty" at the Veiled Prophet Ball (now called the Fair Saint Louis) in 1999.

The Veiled Prophet Organization was originally co-founded in the late 1800s by former Confederate officer Charles Slayback and other prominent white St. Louisans, who only permitted white people to participate up until 1979.

Kemper, 41, addressed the situation in a statement on Instagram Monday.

"Hi guys, when I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown," she began. "The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist and elitist past. I was not aware of the history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved."

"I unequivocally deplore, denounce, and reject white supremacy," she continued. "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."

Addressing the backlash she received, the actress wrote, "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. 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."

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"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 experience in a positive light."

In a statement to PEOPLE on June 1, the Veiled Prophet Organization denounced racism.

"The VP organization is dedicated to civic progress, economic contributions and charitable causes in St. Louis," the statement began. "Our organization believes in and promotes inclusion, diversity and equality for this region. We absolutely reject racism and have never partnered or associated with any organization that harbors these beliefs."

They provided another statement to people on June 7.

"Upon reflection, the Veiled Prophet Organization acknowledges our past and recognizes the criticism levied our way. We sincerely apologize for the actions and images from our history. Additionally, our lack of cultural awareness was and is wrong. We are committed to change, allowing our actions to match the organization we are today," the statement read."

"The VP Organization of today categorically rejects racism, in any form. Today's VP is committed to diversity and equity in our membership, community service initiatives and support for the region," they continued. "Our hope is that moving forward, the community sees us for who we are today and together we can move this region forward for everyone. We are, and always will be committed to the success of the region and making St Louis a better place to live for all."

Kemper ended her own statement on Monday with an apology.

"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. "Thanks for reading this."