OP-ED: Immigration, Racism and the Future of Oakland

I heard a moving radio commentary by Mumia Abu Jamal on efforts by right wing militias and politicians to prevent children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America from entering the United States.

Mumia compared the callous indifference and racism towards these children with the refusal of the U.S. government to admit Jewish children fleeing from Hitler in the 1940s.He quoted blatantly anti-Semitic comments by members of Congress at that time and compared them to the racist statements made by today’s right-wingers about the Central American children.

< p>The right-wing attacks against Hispanic children trying to flee violence in Central America demonstrates, despite the successes of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, how race continues to be the most important issue shaping politics and consciousness in the United States. Even in enlightened Oakland many people accept the squalid conditions faced by the majority of our African American and Latino children, while similar treatment of children from white, more affluent backgrounds would not be tolerated.

The Oakland School District reflects this double standard. OUSD is a district populated primarily by poor, African American and Latino students. Three-quarters of the students qualify for free or reduced priced lunches; 42 percent are Hispanic, 29 percent are African American. Only 50 percent of African American and Latino students graduate from Oakland high schools within four years of starting. The state average is 80 percent.

Oakland’s teachers earn an average of $54,669; the California average is $68,030. Until we address these issues, Oakland will continue to be a divided city.

Middle class and affluent families will insure that their children enjoy a comfortable life and receive a good education, and most will attend college. In our poor communities, far fewer children enjoy the benefits of a comfortable life, many go hungry, and relatively few succeed in school or attend college. Those who never graduate from high school are doomed to lives of low wage jobs, unemployment, and, in many cases, prison.

The viable existence of a society depends upon a social contract, the unwritten agreement between individuals and the government under which people accept the government’s authority over many aspects of their lives in exchange for the security and other benefits the government provides. But when tens of millions of people are excluded from the benefits provided to the majority, social decay and disorder are inevitable.

In the U.S. today, the richest one percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. This situation is not only morally wrong; it is a recipe for disaster. The future health of American society will depend upon its ability to close the income and privilege gaps that divide the rich and the poor, particularly low income people of color.

Our campaign for Mayor of Oakland advocates the development of the City based upon principles of social and economic justice. Our success will help create a model for the future of America.

Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel is a local civil rights attorney and a candidate for mayor.

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