This week I had the privilege of attending a conversation at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco on the roots and rise of white nationalism and extremism in the United States. It was the first event in KQED’s Walls and Bridges six-part series of community conversations, which The James Irvine Foundation is proud to sponsor.
The idea for these events was born after the alarming events in Charlottesville, Virginia, last fall, when a rally by white supremacists led to violence and the death of a protester. Such tragedies reinforce the divides in our country, including a lack of civil dialogue about the causes of these divisions.
KQED’s Walls and Bridges series will present live conversations around the Bay Area on a range of issues: extremism, gender inequality, policies and racism, immigration and California’s changing demographics, and how where you live relates to health and upward mobility. Similarly, we are sponsoring three events hosted by Southern California Public Radio: two about hate groups (hosted in Redlands last November and in Los Angeles this May), and a third next week at UC Irvine exploring free speech on college campuses.
We hope these events will inform participants and highlight bright spots and paths forward. I encourage you to join any events in your area – or listen for some of these conversations on KQED and KPCC.
The conversation at the Chinese Culture Center reinforced for me that power is often at the heart of our societal divisions (and the hate and violence they produce). Those who have power too often use their influence and resources to remain on top. Those with less power fight for it but face a variety of barriers, leading them to feel powerless and disconnected. And when people fear that they’re losing power, they can act on their fears in dangerous ways.
California exemplifies our country’s longstanding imbalances of power, lack of dialogue between groups, and deep racial and ethnic fissures that result in mistrust and, sadly, violence. My hope is that as a state we can also show a way forward.
California’s economic and political future depends on all people having access to opportunity – the promise of a safe community and the chance to build a better life for themselves and their families.
At Irvine, we will continue to support leaders and organizations that seek to empower those who are left behind or excluded from economic and political opportunity. We will also support greater dialogue and civic discourse, like this powerful series of events organized by KQED, KPPC, and Southern California Public Radio.