You know it when you see it (2023)


When pictures of Ellie Kemper at the Blurred Prophet Ball resurfaced this week, I felt a shock of recognition—and shame.

By Claire Lampen,a staff writer for the Cut which has covered gender, politics and culture since 2018

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Ellie Kemper ved Veiled Prophet Ball i 1999.Foto: Jamie Rector/St Louis Post-Dispatch / Polaris

You know it when you see it (2)

Ellie Kemper ved Veiled Prophet Ball i 1999.Foto: Jamie Rector/St Louis Post-Dispatch / Polaris

You know it when you see it (3)

Ellie Kemper ved Veiled Prophet Ball i 1999.Foto: Jamie Rector/St Louis Post-Dispatch / Polaris

As the veiled prophet ball became a national phenomenon on Monday, the prevailing reaction was the right one: shock and confusion. The images bouncing around the web this week range from the jarring to the inexplicable: Here's a man draped in white robes, hiding his face behind tiny lace curtains; here is… sorry, is itKimmy Schmidt i balkjolenand the opera gloves? Who are the children smiling adoringly at her, what do they want? After growing up in St. Louis and attended the ball as a guest, I can tell you that the children in the feathered caps are her "pages," and the turbaned white man standing just behind her bridal train is a "Bengal Lancer." and the above-elbow gloves are mandatory, at least until dinner is served. When I found out that a teenage Ellie Kemper made her debut at the ball in 1999, I didn't feel surprised. My first thought was something like,but of course.

I went to the same small private high school that Kemper did, and in that small world the ball, or "VP" as we referred to it, was an extremely common thing. At least for students from the city's oldest and wealthiest families, VP remains a common holiday tradition, if not an uncontroversial one: As the Internet has discovered, two Confederates founded the organization, inducted white St. Louis elites and refused to accept black and Jewish members for the next century. Its mascot looks like oneGreat Wizard. The optics alone are horrible.

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As the photos of Kemper circulated, some called for her to publicly "relinquish" her title; other invented names such as "KKK Princess," although, as has been reiterated in various explanations on Veiled Prophet this week, the organization shares no known ties to the Klan. Still others have defended her, arguing that all this happened more than two decades ago, when the woman in question was 19 years old, and how unfair, how pointless, to bring it up again now. This camp wondered (and here I'm looking at comments on Cut's own Instagram) "if this was meant to create a dialogue about debutante balls and classism, or shame Ellie Kemper for a choice she made as a teenager?"

Classism is a crucial component of this story, but I also wonder about shame. I wonder if this is something that Kemper feels, in retrospect, not because I think she's racist for going to a ball, but because I think racism supported the white privilege that we grew up with up in. When I think about my own attendance at VP, shame is the emotion that swells to the surface. I remember how the Prophet's first appearance surprised me, how obvious the resemblance was, how little it seemed to confuse the crowd around me. Shame drove me to write "veiled prophet KKK?" into my Google search bar a few days later, shame made me untag the photos. I felt shame again this week as people across the country looked at a man in a white veil and saw the same thing I did over ten years ago. Often things are exactly as they appear.

In its original form,Veiled Prophetemerged as a sharp response to the city's workers, a secret society of the wealthiest St. Louis leaders founded in the aftermath of the Great Railroad Strike. That event saw black and white workers unite to bring freight to a standstill—successful collaboration the upper classes read as an attack on the social hierarchy. In 1878 the "city fathers" held their first parade, a propagandist celebration that lauded wealth and introduced the Prophet. A 1928VP releasedescribes him as a "beloved despot" who "rules with an iron fist encased in velvet"; an 1878 flyer for the parade shows him wearing a pointed white hood and long white robes, clutching two shotguns and a pistol. Although some historians have argued that the KKK did not adopt that uniform until 1915, the parallel is unmistakable.

Earlier this week, the VPO issued aannouncementsays it "is dedicated to civic advancement, economic contribution and charitable causes in St. Louis," that it "believes in and promotes inclusion, diversity and equality for this region," and that it "absolutely rejects racism." These days the organization has members of color along with Jewish members and is engaged in philanthropy. But while no explicit links between the VP and the KKK have ever been confirmed, racism doesn't always come wrapped in white clothes. One need only look at St. Louis story - whichnorthernmost portin the American slave trade, in a Union state nonethelessrepresentedof a star on the Confederate flag, where officials have longutilized municipal systemspushing black residents out of their homes and entrenching cyclical poverty, and where segregation continues today—to understand how the elite have exploited the race to grant and withhold status. From the start, the VPO has consolidated power in the same hands that have always held it. Overwhelmingly, these hands have been white.

According to a St. Louis trope, which I've heard repeated since forever, the first thing two strangers often ask each other when they learn they both grew up there is, "Where did you go to high school?" Realistically, this is probably a question only rich people ask each other, and when I hear it now, it sounds like a subtle examination of a new acquaintance's place in the socioeconomic order. In the city itself, decades have red lines and white flightravagedthe public school system, leaving most black districts wildly underfunded and understaffed. Meanwhile, areported38 percent of the white children in St. Louis attended these public schools in January 2021; the majority are probably enrolled in one of the many private and public schools in the area, just as I was. Despite living in the city, I went to high school out in the suburbs; one of the more prestigious private options, and apparently the most progressive, at least in terms of its curriculum and its policies. When I started seventh grade in 2002, the student body was not very diverse, either in terms of race, ethnicity, or household income. Even though there were plenty of kids there whose families weren't wealthy, we're still talking about the kind of school that required white dresses or tuxedos at graduation.

I don't say this as a complaint - I don't resent the education I received, far from it. Yet undercurrents of white supremacy ran through so many of the institutions in my orbit. Consider the whites-only country clubs that openly shunned black membershipinto the 90s(and in some cases,aughts) two of which bordered my high school; or the men's only social clubs, which at the same time had just begun to allow the occasional woman into the premises. When I was a teenager, it felt easy enough to shrug off VP as just another kind of "legacy shit," as a high school friend recently put it to me.

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Although nothing about it—not the pseudo-mysticism, not the glittering jesters, and certainly not the prophet himself—looks or is normal, it was nevertheless ordinary. It was so common that as a 19-year-old I didn't quite understand why my mother, who is not from St. Louis, became furious when I told her I was thinking of leaving. I understood better when I saw the spectacle myself: the grown men parading by in uniforms reminiscent of the British Indian Army, the feathered headdresses, the polyester afros. And that's before you get to the big man in the doily - no amount of Mardi Gras can hide the connotations of that costume choice. And still I went back the next year, with a friend who didn't want to go, didn't agree with the larger deb-ball premise, and yet felt family pressure. I'm pretty sure my mom briefly stopped talking to me after I told her, and although I now understood where her anger was coming from, I also thought she was overreacting. The friend wanted to fulfill her family obligation, then we partied, and none of it had to mean more than that. So many of my schoolmates, most but not all white, would be there and I don't think the offensive elements were lost on any of them. Another what-the-hell moment for the deck.

When talking about prom with other friends who attended, both white and not, the conversation keeps circling back to one point: This kind of thing happened all the time. To me, I think that is why the Prophet's appearance surprised more than it shocked. Repetition is a way you come to recognize something without really seeing it for what it is, and privilege—being used to a lack of consequences—can perpetuate bad behavior for a long time. That might help explain how an entire room full of adults can watch the screen, year after year after year, and not see what so much of the country is reacting to right now.

And I wonder if apathy is what happens when you've watched this party play out for as long as you can remember, just like your parents did, just like your grandparents did. I wonder when white supremacy becomes so deeply normalized that you simply stop seeing it. Maybe the adults in that ballroom thought it was harmless fun, or maybe they knew exactly what it was all about. I don't know what's worse, not seeing it or not caring.

Therefore, I hope that Kemper will address it. Going to a bizzaro deb ball may have felt like a stupid thing her parents wanted her to do, but hey, there would be a big flashy gala afterwards. It's also possible that she was looking forward to this moment for years. I have no idea what she thought about it all as she has so far remained silent on the matter. What interests me most is how she feels about it now. Yes, the resurrected image came completely out of the blue, and yes, we are talking about a party 20 years ago. Still, 2021's rate of VP is likely to develop in exactly the same way. Without direct recognition from people in institutions like this, there is no chance of change.

Update: On Monday, June 7, Kemper apologized for attending the ball in a statement posted to Instagram. "The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an undeniably racist, sexist and elitist past. I was unaware of this history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse," she wrote. "Because of my race and my privilege, I am the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards.” Read her full statementher.

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You know it when you see it


What Supreme Court justice said I know it when I see it? ›

HISTORY 30GS. When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to describe his test for obscenity in 1964, he responded: "I know it when I see it." But do we? What is pornography and how has it changed over the last two and a half centuries?

Who said we know it when we see it? ›

Knowing It When You See It

In his concurring opinion in the 1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio case, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart delivered what has become the most well-known line related to the detection of “hard-core” pornography: the infamous “I know it when I see it.” statement.

What was Justice Stewart talking about when he declared I know it when I see it? ›

According to them, Stewart called "I know it when I see it" the "Casablanca Test," because when he was a naval officer during World War II in Casablanca he had seen some of the local pornography his men brought back to the ship, and that was definitely "it." See BOB WOODWARD & ScOTt ARMSTRONG, THIE BRETHREN 194 (1979).

When did Potter Stewart say ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do? ›

"Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do." The quote is from Potter Stewart who retired from the Supreme Court Justice of the United States in 1981. Effective leaders who build trust, understand that they have to make a difference by examples of their own.

What did Alexander Hamilton say about the Supreme Court? ›

On the one hand, Hamilton defined the judicial branch as the “least dangerous” branch of the new national government. On the other hand, he also emphasized the importance of an independent judiciary and the power of judicial review.

What did the Supreme Court say in Reynolds v United States? ›

The Court upheld Reynolds's conviction and Congress's power to prohibit polygamy. The Court held that while Congress could not outlaw a belief in the correctness of polygamy, it could outlaw the practice thereof.

Who originally used the quote we don t see things as they are we see them as we are? ›

The quote that is normally attributed to the writer ANAÏS NIN, “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are” is also a Talmudic idea about dream analysis: People can only dream about things they have encountered or thought about, and so their dreams consist not of reality — whatever that is — but is instead ...

Who made the quote the more you know? ›

'The More You Know': There's More to Know. In September of 1989, NBC aired a message from Tom Brokaw. "The more you know about an impending disaster, the more likely you are to do something about it," the news anchor told his audience.

Was Jacobellis v Ohio overturned? ›

The Supreme Court decision in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 187 (1964), overturned on First Amendment grounds the conviction of a movie theater manager who had been prosecuted for showing a film deemed by Ohio authorities to be obscene.

What did Chief Justice Roberts say about the leak? ›

There's little precedent in Supreme Court annals for the leak and investigation. “This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here,” Roberts said when announced the investigation.

What was Justice Stewart's opinion? ›

In one of his more well-known opinions in the obscenity case Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), Justice Stewart famously said that while he could not readily define the term “hard-core” pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Justice Stewart stepped down from the Court in July of 1981.

What is obscene speech? ›

Obscenity is a category of speech unprotected by the First Amendment. Obscenity laws are concerned with prohibiting lewd, filthy, or disgusting words or pictures.

How do we know the difference between what is morally right and wrong? ›

Morally wrong acts are activities such as murder, theft, rape, lying, and breaking promises. Other descriptions would be that they are morally prohibited, morally impermissible, acts one ought not to do, and acts one has a duty to refrain from doing. Morally right acts are activities that are allowed.

What did Nietzsche say about right and wrong? ›

Nietzsche felt that the Christian values of right and wrong were not absolute; they were based on the opinions of people who wanted to control the masses. To him, this makes all values based on human opinions and feelings rather than on divine revelation.

What is the philosophy that all persons know inherently the difference between right and wrong? ›

Natural law is a theory in ethics and philosophy that says that human beings possess intrinsic values that govern their reasoning and behavior. Natural law maintains that these rules of right and wrong are inherent in people and are not created by society or court judges.

What are the 3 major concerns Hamilton will be addressing about the judiciary? ›

There are a few key items to discuss regarding the makeup of a federal judiciary. First is how judges will be chosen. Second is how long judges will be allowed to be on the federal court. Third is how this new federal court will interact with other courts and which courts will have what powers.

What did the founding fathers think about the Supreme Court? ›

Moreover, many of the Founding Fathers expected the Supreme Court to assume this role in regard to the Constitution; Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, for example, had underlined the importance of judicial review in the Federalist Papers, which urged adoption of the Constitution.

Why did Hamilton think that the Supreme Court would be weak? ›

Alexander Hamilton called the U.S. Supreme Court the “weakest” branch of government, because it has no direct control over the military or budget. But the court's recent cluster of decisions on hot-button issues has demonstrated that it can have an enormous impact on the American people and life in this country.

Why did the Supreme Court ban polygamy? ›

Reynolds was sentenced for polygamy

Congress had passed the statute against polygamy because it perceived that such a practice contravened good order and peace.

What does the Constitution say about polygamy? ›

While the Constitution does not explicitly give the government the power to ban the practice of polygamy as a religious doctrine, the Supreme Court has stated repeatedly that polygamy is illegal within the United States.

When was polygamy outlawed? ›

Polygamy as a crime originated in the common law, and it is now outlawed in every state. In the United States, polygamy was declared unlawful through the passing of Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882.

Who coined the phrase why don t you come up and see me sometime? ›

This line is a popular alteration of the invitation uttered by Mae West in the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong. In the film, the actual words of 'Diamon Lil', played by West, are, 'Why don't you come up some time, and see me'. Image credit: News photo of Mae West, likely candid, taken by L.A. Times as part of news story.

Who made the quote an eye for an eye and the world goes blind? ›

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, India (1869- 1948)

Who said a wise person knows that they know nothing? ›

Some people think that they know everything. However, even Socrates, one of history's greatest philosophers, doubted his omniscience and famously stated “all I know is that I know nothing”. Socrates is one of the most famous and influential philosophers in history.

Who said wisdom is knowing that you know nothing? ›

8) "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." - Socrates: Examine the meaning of quote and its significance for an administrator.

Who said wisdom is knowing what you don't know? ›

Use your ignorance to your advantage. Socrates famously observed, “I know one thing, that I know nothing.” He also said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Is Terry v Ohio unconstitutional? ›

Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Court ruled that it is constitutional for American police to "stop and frisk" a person they reasonably suspect to be armed and involved in a crime.

What did Terry v Ohio rule? ›

In this case, the Court concluded that the Fourth Amendment did not prohibit police from stopping a person they have reasonable suspicion to believe had committed a crime, and frisking that person if they reasonably believe that person to be armed.

What was the significance of Jacobellis v Ohio? ›

In JACOBELLIS V. OHIO, decided on 22 June 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed its right to independently determine whether a particular work is obscene and therefore not entitled to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.

Is Chief Justice Roberts a Democrat or conservative? ›

John Glover Roberts Jr. (born January 27, 1955) is an American lawyer and jurist who has served as the 17th chief justice of the United States since 2005. He has been described as having a conservative judicial philosophy though is primarily an institutionalist.

Did the Supreme Court find the leak? ›

Wade leak investigation. WASHINGTON (AP) — Eight months, 126 formal interviews and a 23-page report later, the Supreme Court said it has failed to discover who leaked a draft of the court's opinion overturning abortion rights.

Which Chief Justice said the Supreme Court leak is absolutely appalling? ›

Chief Justice John Roberts said Thursday that the leak of a draft opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade is “absolutely appalling” and stressed that he hopes “one bad apple” would not change “people's perception” of the nation's highest court and workforce.

What is the tinker rule? ›

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), the Supreme Court ruled that public school officials cannot censor student expression unless they can reasonably forecast that the speech will substantially disrupt school activities or invade the rights of others.

What did Thomas Jefferson think about justice? ›

The system of justice will either protect citizens from tyranny or be one means by which tyranny is exercised over them. A just society rests upon an equal application of the law to each and every citizen; it protects the rights of individuals regardless of the inconveniences caused thereby.

Did the Supreme Court rule on prayer in school? ›

The amendment explicitly stated that the Constitution never prohibited prayer or Bible reading in public schools or other government functions.

What speech isn't protected by the First Amendment? ›

The categories of unprotected speech include obscenity, child pornography, defamatory speech, false advertising, true threats, and fighting words. Deciding what is and is not protected speech is reserved to courts of law. The First Amendment only prevents government restrictions on speech.

What is the Hicklin test? ›

The Hicklin Test permitted a conviction for purveyors of obscenity if a publication had a mere tendency to arouse lustful thoughts in the minds of the most susceptible, usually youthful, readers.

What are the three prongs of the Miller test? ›

The three-part test asked whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the work appeals on the whole to prurient interests; describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and lacks any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

What is the word for knowing right from wrong? ›

conscience. / (ˈkɒnʃəns) / noun. the sense of right and wrong that governs a person's thoughts and actions.

How does God influence morality? ›

God approves of right actions because they are right and disapproves of wrong actions because they are wrong (moral theological objectivism, or objectivism). So, morality is independent of God's will; however, since God is omniscient He knows the moral laws, and because He's moral, He follows them.

Why do we choose to do wrong when we know it is wrong? ›

When we sin, we feel bad and know it's wrong, but sometimes we do it anyway. Why do we do things we know are wrong? Because of our fallen nature, we are prone to be shortsighted and forgetful. Often we don't see the long-term effects of our choices, or we forget the consequences of choices we've made before.

What is Nietzsche's most famous quote? ›

What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

What is the paradox of Nietzsche? ›

First, Nietzsche propounds the art and discipline of suffering while simultaneously praising happiness. This is the joy paradox. Second, Nietzsche denounces the wholesale abolition of suffering, but he also seeks to eliminate meaningless suffering. This is the suffering abolition paradox.

What is the moral philosophy of right and wrong? ›

Morality directs people to behave in certain ways and avoid behaving in other ways. It evaluates behavior as right or wrong and may involve measuring the conformity of a person's actions to a code of conduct or set of principles.

What is the philosophical definition of right and wrong? ›

Right and wrong may refer to: Ethics, or moral philosophy, a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. Morality, the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper.

What is justice louis brandeis answer to free speech? ›

Justice Brandeis: "More speech, not enforced silence"

“If there be time to expose through discussion, the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

What did the Supreme Court rule in the 1969 case of Brandenburg v Ohio? ›

Ohio (1969) In Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), the Supreme Court established that speech advocating illegal conduct is protected under the First Amendment unless the speech is likely to incite “imminent lawless action.”

How did Miller v California 1973 define obscenity? ›

Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court modifying its definition of obscenity from that of "utterly without socially redeeming value" to that which lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value".

What is the quote on the Supreme Court building? ›

"EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW"-These words, written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building, express the ultimate responsibility of the Supreme Court of the United States.

What did Louis Brandeis argue? ›

Brandeis (1856-1941) gained a reputation as a formidable defender and advocate for everyday Americans through his many crusading cases, which included exposing corruption in the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair, fighting railroad trusts, and defending laws restricting women's working hours.

What argument is a Brandeis Brief? ›

: a brief containing information and statistics relevant to social and economic problems in addition to arguments of law and fact.

What argument is supported by the Brandeis Brief? ›

The Brandeis Brief--in its entirety

To support his argument that overwork was inimical to the workers' health, Brandeis (with the help of Goldmark, his sister-in-law) compiled a number of statistics from medical and sociological journals and listed citations to the articles in his brief.

Is the Brandenburg test still used today? ›

The Brandenburg test remains the standard used for evaluating attempts by the government to punish inflammatory speech, and it has not been seriously challenged since it was laid down in 1969.

What was the decision in Texas v Johnson? ›

Decision: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of Johnson. The high court agreed that symbolic speech – no matter how offensive to some – is protected under the First Amendment. DISCLAIMER: These resources are created by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for educational purposes only.

What are the 3 tests for obscenity? ›

The three-part test asked whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the work appeals on the whole to prurient interests; describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and lacks any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Is The Miller test still being used? ›

The Supreme Court has repeatedly grappled with problematic elements of the Miller test for obscenity. However, to date, no standard has replaced it. In 1997, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU I”) addressed obscenity in the field of new media.

What are the 3 standards used by the Supreme Court to determine obscenity? ›

In Miller v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court established the standard for an obscenity conviction under the Constitution. A work will be found to be obscene if 'taken as a whole, (it) lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

What was Thurgood Marshall famous quote? ›

We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust… We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.

What president was responsible for the Supreme Court getting their own building? ›

Finally in 1929, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President of the United States from 1909 to 1913, persuaded Congress to end this arrangement and authorize the construction of a permanent home for the Court.

What is the nickname for the Supreme Court building? ›

The Supreme Court Building houses the Supreme Court of the United States. Also referred to as "The Marble Palace", the building serves as the official workplace of the chief justice of the United States and the eight associate justices of the Supreme Court.


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