Seeing What We Expect to See


Note: I submitted a variant of the text below as a Letter to the Editor of the Daily Lobo, UNM’s Student Newspaper.

In reading some of the recent letters regarding UNM’s seal, I cannot help but wonder how our students and faculty have arrived at the conclusion it is racist. If it were, the seal would be advocating for the superiority of Western culture above all others. The seal does not does not do so in any way, shape, or form. A frontiersman and a conquistador, in and of themselves, are not racist symbols. They simply are what they are. No more, and no less.

You could correctly say, however, there are some who see racism in the seal. Which is unarguable, as indicated by the existence of #abolishtheracistseal on Twitter. There are some who, when looking at it, cannot help but see it in an imperialist, colonialist, or racist way. How do people arrive at such views? How do they look at the seal and see racism?

I suspect there are many who support The Red Nation and other groups because they have been taught to think Western civilization, in and of itself, is imperialist, colonialist, and racist. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the University itself. UNM’s Native American Studies program offers a course, “Sociopolitical Concepts in Native America,” which specifically focuses on colonization as a topic of study. No doubt students go through such courses and learn about all the evil, terrible things Western people did. No doubt the narrative those classes construct is one where Native Americans were victimized by the Europeans. As such, we should not be surprised when students who pass through such courses see racism in the seal - it is what they’ve been taught to think.

Why would Professors at this University wish to teach their students they are victims? What purpose does doing so serve? Why does “empowering” students involve telling them that no matter what they do, “those Western people” are going to “oppress” them? The real racists in this discussion may very well be those leaders and Professors who keep harping that Westerners are oppressors and racists. They are the ones perpetuating a false stereotype.

Our Professors - across all departments and disciplines - help craft the lens through which their students see the world. It is a great power they hold. I should hope they are using it wisely, and to promote vibrate research, and civil discussion, across our campus. The University is weakened when they do otherwise. The discussion about the seal is not just about racism and oppression - it is also about how UNM’s Professors are teaching students to see the world. Ultimately, it is about the kind of citizens they become as a result of their education at our University.