Exploring social justice and equality with Register’s Rekha Basu

Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu

By Loretta McGraw, special to the Chronicle

Rekha Basu, opinion columnist for the Des Moines Register, says the most negative responses she has received were in response to columns on interracial relationships, gay rights, and abortion rights.

Sometimes Basu receives hate mail, particularly in response to controversial subjects. Readers tend to be upset with the column but sometimes they even make rude comments about her ethnicity.

Originally from India, Basu has gained a unique perspective from which she sees the world. Many of the sights she experienced growing up were the reason behind her decision to pursue a career in print journalism and television commentary.

“I was born in India, and because of my parents’ work abroad I saw a lot of things. Poverty, protests, just a side of news that wasn’t being covered. I just wanted to help and I felt there was a lot of things not being said,” Basu said.

This prompted Basu to explore different ways of giving visibility to people who don’t have a voice. She attended the United Nations International School through high school and later earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.  

Having a deep understanding of social issues, inequality, diversity and political theory has helped Basu to become a successful opinion columnist tackling a variety of topics including LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) rights, poverty, sex discrimination and racial justice

“I love the work I do. I have no need to retire. I want to help people keep reading newspapers and stay focused on important information. I think racial discrimination against African-American people, and cops getting off scot-free after committing brutality against black people, demands attention from people of all races,” Basu said.

Living internationally has given Basu the opportunity to connect with essentially anyone but the drawback was having no firm set culture.

Basu enjoys living in Iowa because of the sense of community that most places lack. In 2006, after the loss of her husband, Des Moines Register Newspaper Columnist Rob Borsellino, having a close group of friends helped Basu to recover from the tremendous loss in her life.

For 26 years, Basu has been working for The Des Moines Register, before that she was an editorial writer in New York.

“I had a lot of admiration for the Des Moines Register; they had just won the Pulitzer Prize for public service a year before I began working there,” Basu said.

Throughout her career, Basu has received many awards for her work as a journalist exploring social justice and equality. One of her greatest achievements was receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Grinnell College in 2008 and being placed in the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

Basu believes that it’s important to be passionate about her writing, have empathy and the ability to connect with people.

“I once did a story on a Dowling high school girl who was raped on school grounds. She was poor and from a single-parent home so no one believed her or cared,” Basu said.

The boy who was accused of committing the act was able to get away with it, receiving no punishment for his actions.

“Fifteen years later I got a voicemail from the Dowling high school victim thanking me for believing her. She told me that I was the only one who believed her, and that whenever she felt like ending her pain, her life, she pulled the column I wrote about her out of her wallet and read it. Her telling me that has really stuck with me and helped to remind me that what I’m doing makes a difference,” Basu said.

As the media continues to face backlash from President Donald Trump making claims of “fake news,” Basu says she and other journalists should not be afraid to stand their ground and speak out on racial discrimination and excessive, sometimes deadly force by the police, among other issues.

“As a columnist, it’s easy to rely on others’ reporting, but to me it’s important to get additional information before writing a column,” Basu said.

Due to the divisiveness as a result of the presidential election, it’s important that even when topics divide people that everyone receives accurate and important news about their community, nation and world so that everyone is operating from the same set of facts.

“Be curious, open to experiences, engage with people, read as much as you can, when writing opinion columns use facts, opinion, and passion, use your inside strengths,” Basu said.

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