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‘Protecting’ permanent fund protects systemic racism

New Mexico’s $19 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) is a sacred cow that’s been used by some politicians as insurance against the wealthy having to pay their fair share in taxes. While working people bear the brunt of keeping our economy afloat, New Mexico’s top earners enjoy the fruits of a broken tax system. As long as the LGPF continues to swell to historic amounts, the less pressure on those same politicians to fix the tax system.

Meanwhile, children of color continue to experience some of the worst child well-being outcomes in the country. Many of these children will never get a chance to succeed because our system has failed them. Too many will end up as another statistic of children who perform poorly in school, are forced into the criminal justice system and develop drug-use disorders. These children go on to have children of their own, and the cycle starts all over again. In New Mexico, we’re several generations into these cycles of poverty and desperation. This is an example of institutional racism.

The LGPF was created at statehood, with the federal government taking “choice land” that belonged to Native Americans and Hispanic land grants. Keep in mind New Mexico’s long and arduous road to statehood. The federal government rejected our requests for statehood several times, using overtly racist arguments on the floor of Congress. New Mexico was “too Mexican,” incapable of self-government and not to be trusted with the land and resources. This is an old refrain. The federal government didn’t want us, and when it finally accepted us into the Union, it imposed an archaic finance and land management system that continues to this day.

To truly begin to dismantle racist systems of oppression, we should start by permanently and substantially funding early childhood education from a sustainable source like the LGPF and ensure children of color are afforded every opportunity to get a healthy start in life. The opportunity gap begins at birth, yet our Legislature has been content throwing pennies at programs widely accepted as transformative for children and their communities.

I’m not calling any individual “racist.” I’m not concerned with any one individual’s views on race. But the policy decisions made by politicians who are oblivious to race, racism and racial power can inadventantly result in the upholding of racist systems of oppression. Past policy decisions to “protect” the LGPF from New Mexico’s most vulnerable children are gross and obvious examples of institutional racism.

Those same politicians claim we need to “protect” the fund for “future generations,” but that claim is preposterous. The fact is the “future” never arrives, and we’ll always be sacrificing today’s real children for the fictional kids of tomorrow. We’ll then congratulate ourselves for having one of the largest permanent funds in the world and remain blind to the tragic conditions facing our children.

Nearly 80% of N.M. children are children of color. The reading proficiency levels for these students should disturb us all with 7 out of 10 testing below proficient. If the same prison complex that will eventually imprison our children is worthy of investments from the LGPF, the youngest and most vulnerable children should certainly be worthy as well.

We can choose to dismantle archaic systems of oppression, or we can choose to uphold them. I choose to dismantle. I choose to rebuild.

Let’s invest the LGPF in New Mexico’s children.

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