Father of Colorado State student in blackface says his daughter is 'not a racist'

Pat Ferrier, Fort Collins Coloradoan

FORT COLLINS, Colorado – The father of a Colorado State University freshman photographed wearing blackface says his daughter is paying a steep and unfair price for “three minutes of poor judgment.”

Les Kaplan said his daughter, Leana, has been fired from her job, received 50 death threats and has been mischaracterized as a racist since the Instagram post went viral after it was shared and criticized by others.

In the post, four Colorado State University students, including Leana, are pictured in an Instagram story wearing blackface, with text on the photo reading, “Wakanda forevaa,” a reference to Marvel’s "Black Panther."

“Was she stupid? Yeah, but the picture, to conclude it’s a photo of four racists is really unfortunate,” said Kaplan, a prominent developer in Fort Collins. “A horrible picture does not mean she is a horrible person.”

Kaplan said the incident started when a guy on Leanna’s dorm floor came back with a free sample of facial mud he picked up at CSU. Two friends and his daughter put it on their faces and thought it was funny, he said.

“They made a sign saying ‘Wakanda forevaa’ referring to the hit movie ‘Black Panther,’” Kaplan said. The photo, which ended up online and shared by another student, went viral.

'A great deal of pain': Blackface post by Colorado State students sparks outcry as racial issues mount

The impact and the hurt that people are experiencing when they see the photo can’t be undone, Les Kaplan said. “It looks horrendous and I can understand why people were hurt ... and the damage of the photo cannot be changed, but the picture is not a picture of racists. It’s a picture of four kids horsing around with facial mud.”

In a statement signed by President Joyce McConnell, Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes and Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros, CSU said earlier this week that "this photo has caused a great deal of pain to members of our community," citing the "long and ugly history of blackface in America."

Social media accounts are protected by the First Amendment, according to the university, so it can’t take any punitive action against the students involved.

“But there is still plenty we can do,” CSU officials wrote. “CSU is an educational institution committed to respecting every member of our community and to facilitating discussions that can promote honesty, learning and healing. Our offices have already asked faculty and staff to share their professional expertise and personal wisdom on the issues that this posted image raises about race and identity.”

Kaplan acknowledged the long history of racism in America, both overt and covert, but said his daughter is “not a racist and not a racist denier. She’s a 19-year-old girl who had three minutes of poor judgment that is now affecting her entire life.”

Leana Kaplan is attending classes at CSU and living in the dorm, but her father said he’s not sure if she’ll be able to continue at CSU. “She has been so persecuted over this (that) her life at CSU has become almost intolerable,” he said.

CSU officials, “although concerned about Leana and her safety, finds themselves in a position of being criticized by minority students for not suspending the ‘white b----,’” Kaplan said. His daughter has now unfairly become a target and a symbol of racism at CSU, he said.

He said he doesn’t understand why CSU has not included anything in its messaging about making this incident a teachable moment and has not said anything to discourage people from harassing or being violent toward the four students in the photo.

“In the course of her being labeled this white racist, she has become a victim herself,” Les Kaplan said.

Leana put out statement that she is not a racist, but the photo is “horrendous and has become the message. People don’t understand the circumstances behind the picture, and they have no interest in understanding Leana.”

“There was no intent here,” her father said. “This is not a group of students who intended to mock black people ... they were messing around with facial mud. They went from being stupid to being silly and when they were silly, they did the ‘Wakanda forevaa.’”

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado State blackface: Dad says his daughter is 'not a racist'