A few weeks ago, Leana Kaplan and three other students posted a racist picture on snapchat. In the photo, they were wearing Blackface with the text reading “Wakanda forevaa” in reference to a Marvel’s “Black Panther.” Yes, students of color understand the face mask was black itself because it’s charcoal, but the comment with the hand symbols posted along with the picture is what showed the action of Blackface.
During the process, Kaplan spoke out many times about the incident and apologized for being ignorant to the concept. During an interview with a student media outlet at CSU, Kaplan referred to her friends as “colored” and said she finally understood the meaning of Blackface, but did not take accountability for her actions. Which makes me think, I’m not too sure she does understand the history behind Blackface. If she doesn’t then I don’t think many other white people know either.
Blackface is a dehumanizing act which has impacted Black people for centuries. The history of Blackface in the United States dates back to the early 18th century. White actors and actresses would paint their faces black with over exaggerated lips and would wear other stereotypical clothing to mimic the slaves on the plantations. According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Blackface performances became popular around the end of the Civil War.
According to David Leonard, a professor of comparative ethnic studies and American studies at Washington State University, Blackface is used as an assertion of power and control and allows society to routinely and historically imagine Black people as not fully human. When Black people are seen as not fully human, it rationalizes the violence towards Black people and Jim Crow segregation.
According to History.com, Blackface is also the birth to Black caricatures such as the “Mammy” stereotype, which is an overweight and loud mother figure; a “Zip coon,” which is a flamboyant overdressed man who used sophisticated words incorrectly and a pickaninny, which is a dark skinned Black child with “nappy” hair . One of the most popular movies including Blackface is The Birth of a Nation where Blackface characters portrayed Black people as unethical and as rapists. The stereotypes in the movie were so powerful, the movie became a recruiting tool for the Klu Klux Klan.
Although Blackface is hate speech, the university claims it is freedom of speech. Colorado State University officials in Fort Collins sent out an email after the incident which said the students involved in the photo would not face consequences because the photo was posted to social media off school grounds.
Kaplan was the only one who came forward about the picture. The three other students in the picture created an anonymous social media account to state their apologies, but none of the boys had been confirmed by the night of the Student Government meeting in regard to the incident.
“It’s been a challenging time and I hope tonight we can make history,” said Joyce McConnell, CSU president. “We will show the world that we can come together and that we can make this a place where all students thrive.”
McConnell said she had a scheduled meeting to go to halfway through the student government meetings, which upset many of the students there who already felt dismissed for being people of color. The meeting contained students from across Colorado to show their support to the students of color at CSU. There were students from CSU Pueblo, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado University Denver and Metropolitan State University.
“My identity that has made me who I am, has become an opportunity for others to dehumanize me.” said Venus Cariaso, a CSU senior. Cariaso said she was tired, and CSU can’t erase what they’ve done.
As the night continued on, other incidents of hate crimes and racism towards Black students on campus resurfaced. A noose was tied to a Black students dorm room door, racist graffiti was found in the locker rooms, pro-nazi organizations were able to march on campus and swastikas were painted all over the walls of a locker room the day after the student government meeting. There was no news on whether or not there was an on-going investigation to find who drew the symbols or if there was an investigation at all.
One CSU student said everyone should be held accountable, it’s so disheartening for the Black and Brown people on this campus that have to deal with this every day, there have been people who have been called the n-word, been spit on, and been avoided because of the way they look.
Several students voiced their exhaustion with the school and how this has taken a toll on them. Some said they were disappointed when messages written on the sidewalk at CSU fighting back against white supremacy were washed away but Kaplan and her friends were protected under the first amendment law.
One student who refused to give her name went to the podium and announced the people of color in the room should grow thicker skin because what Kaplan and her friends did was protected under the First Amendment law.
Two Black football players from the CSU Rams team said when they expressed their feelings regarding the Blackface situation to their coaches, they were told to focus on playing football. The whole climate of CSU seems to sweep issues of discrimination and racism under the rug.
Alyssa Caldwell and Yazmine Garcia, both CSU students, experienced biased and discriminatory treatment from a CSU English professor named Airica Parker. Both students provided emails and screenshots of Parker being condescending and misunderstanding.
Parker said she would not meet with Garcia until Garcia went to therapy and then proceeded to ignore Garcia’s comments in class regarding the bias actions Parker has exhibited. In the email, Parker plays victim to Garcia’s concerns of feeling separated from the rest of her class because of her identity. Garcia included in the email how Parker embarrassed her by calling her out in front of the class and when Garcia defended herself and began to walk back to her desk Parker forcefully grabbed her then said to Garcia to finish what she started.
Caldwell’s experiences with Parker are no different.
“Many of my best and brightest students have been African-American, and I’ve built lasting relationships with them to this day. I am truly sorry that your race made you more sensitive to my reactions to your resistant and ongoing attitude and behavior,” Parker wrote in a canvas post to Caldwell. “I’m truly amazed by your continued insistence on lack of accountability and by your sad unwillingness to see past your own frame.”
Many students who took the podium said they were disappointed to be a CSU Ram and to be honest, the continuous incidents announced made me happy I wasn’t a CSU student.
Although an initiative is going to be put in place to attack racism and bias, the only thing left to do is wait. The day after the Student Government meeting another hate speech happened. There have been no news updates on if someone is a suspect or the officials have done anything to find the perpetrator. As a Black woman, it just feels like a never ending cycle of pain, struggle and disappointment. I feel like many of the students of color at predominantly white institutions can relate. I hope to see a change from CSU and I hope other schools can learn from the mistakes of CSU Fort Collins in order to create a safe environment for students of color across their campuses.