Author turned road trip into book exploring race and change in the U.S.
by Caroline Collier
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Topics: Heard on campus
by Caroline Collier
Journalist and author Ethan Casey has traveled the planet, interacting with a variety of people from a mixture of strata and appreciating the commonalities of the human experience.
The Seattleite, who delivered a January talk on race, power and social change in America, said his nonfiction work requires him to “learn about the world that we’re living in and share that learning with other people in a way that allows us to live well and honestly.”
Casey discussed the injustices that continue to plague African Americans in the U.S. surrounding the social and political shifts in the wake of the tragic events last year in Ferguson, Mo. The former foreign correspondent also discussed his book, Bearing the Bruise: a Life Graced by Haiti, mentioning the five-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake. More than 100 people attended the hour-long talk.
“Real America speaks in many voices. America is both diverse and political.”Ethan Casey
After in-depth studies of foreign societies, Casey said he wanted to take a closer look at the cultural climate in the United States. He conducted a three-month, 18,000-mile road trip across the country in late 2012, when the country re-elected President Barack Obama.
What did he discover? “Real America speaks in many voices,” Casey said. “America is both diverse and political.”
The people he met and the events he witnessed became the basis for a new book, Home Free: An American Road Trip, which he read from in the poetic speech.
“It’s not only Ferguson,” he told the audience, reminding them that the fate Michael Brown met in Missouri marked the same end for Trayvon Martin in Florida, Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, and twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Oh. All were unarmed black males, and all were Americans.
In order to get a better picture of what other people face, both stateside and around the globe, Casey urged the audience to practice authentic listening and to diversify their sources of information. He mentioned The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates and Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat as “excellent resources” to help people understand imbalances in privilege and opportunity.
In addition to unconventional media sources, Casey discussed taking action to work toward a more just future and to find new young leaders. As an example, he brought up Deray McKesson, an education professional from Minneapolis who has emerged as a leading voice in today’s protest movement by sharing events on the ground through social media.
“He’s doing his best to make sure we don’t get comfortable,” Casey said of McKesson.
Casey told the audience that each member knew what to do, even if those actions and decisions disrupt a complacent lifestyle. “We need the majority population to wake up and be more active.
“The middle class cherishes security and stability,” he said. “The priority of the establishment is to shore up the status quo. … But the previous status quo cannot be maintained. These times are not stable.”
When asked specifically what people who want a push toward equality should do, Casey said, “I don’t have a complete answer to that question. None of us do.”
After the event, Casey praised TCU for its commitment to discuss the often-uncomfortable issues of race, power and social change. “Everywhere I go around the country, I highlight TCU as an institution that is making a real, conscious and proactive effort to do excellent programming that brings an awareness of the wider world to its students,” he said.
In his January visit to Fort Worth, Casey continued working on a project he is launching with April Brown, assistant director for the Office of Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services at TCU. Working in tandem, they will edit stories of students and staff members on campus who are veterans of the United States armed forces.
“It’s very humbling to be in the presence of people who have experienced and witnessed some extraordinary things,” Casey said of the veterans who are sharing their stories.
When asked how the student veteran compilation dovetails with his books on Pakistan and Haiti, Casey answered: “They all emphasize the human dimension, and the human experience, and human suffering as a result of the extraordinary and unstable times that we’re all living through.”
Listening well and perceiving the world as it really is, not in a way that conforms to ideologies and expectations, then taking action to change the elements that are wrong, is a collective responsibility, Casey said. “I’m not saying it will be easy, but the rewards will be great.”
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