Two Colorado State University students seen in a blackface photo floated across social media are breaking their silence, describing how they got roped into what they say was a big “misunderstanding.”
The young men, both freshmen at the Fort Collins college, said the incident has turned their lives upside down and painted them as racists, which they say they’re not. Both recently spoke with Denver outlet FOX 31 but requested anonymity due to the fierce backlash the photo has caused on campus.
“The intent is different from the impact,” one of the young men told the station. “Our intention was absolutely nothing racist. No one in that photo is racist. The impact is definitely a racist photo and it has impacted a lot of people in a negative way.”
The offensive image was originally posted to Snapchat and showed three young men and a young woman posed with their arms crossed, their faces slathered in a dark, black substance. There was also a caption, which read “Wakanda Forevaa,” a reference to the Marvel film “Black Panther.”
According to FOX 31, the young woman in the photo, Leana Kaplan, shared the picture on social media, where it went viral on Instagram after a fellow student screenshot it and replied, “Sad how you think think this is okay.”
Two of the boys said they had no idea Kaplan would even post the photo, let alone with a racist caption. The freshmen said they were just hanging out at their dorm and trying to make new friends.
“She [Kaplan] offered me pizza for putting on a charcoal face mask, I was like, well, it’s free pizza, I’m a college student, why not?” the second student explained, adding that none of them put on the mask with the intention of mocking African-Americans.
Exclude the “Black Panther” reference, the students said, and they might be accused of acting dumb or silly, but not racist. One of the men said he’s never even seen the Marvel film, which earned an estimated $700 million during its theatrical run in the U.S.
“I didn’t know there was any significance between the arms crossed pose,” the first student said, adding that he was just following Kaplan’s lead. “I just thought it was a tough-guy pose.”
Outrage over the photos intensified when the university announced it wouldn’t discipline the four students involved, citing First Amendment rights. CSU President Joyce McConnell argued that while the image had caused the campus community a “great deal of pain,” the students hadn’t violated school rules and free speech rights “prohibits the university from taking any punitive action against those in the photo.”
However, the young men have criticized CSU officials over their handling of the incident, saying administrators didn’t respond fast enough when they reached out to share their side of the story.
“They have not helped us in any way,” one student said.”They keep saying we are racist kids and we are not.”
Both have decried campus-wide emails sent by McConnell they say left them feeling demonized. The students said they fully support diversity at Colorado State and fear their fellow students and staff have rushed to judgment based off a single photo.
The young men have apologized to all who were offended, saying: “Our intentions were totally different but nonetheless we did make an impact and we feel awful for that and we really wish we could make things up,”
Watch more in the video below.