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Been here before

Colby Basil does have that look.

What needs to be done

My son, Miles, on race in the United States:

After welcoming my son into the world a little over a month ago I’ve felt my life change immediately. Every decision and every thought now goes into the wellbeing of our tiny boy. There is no doubt in my mind that I will spend my life ensuring that he is able to have every single chance and every possible advantage in life. I will do all that I can to protect his safety, to afford him every opportunity and to provide him with the most happiness a father can.

But it is hard to not consider one alternative reality: what if my son was black? On my walk through the NICU every day I pass multiple black children, each in the loving arms of their mothers. The thought that they will have less access to the same dreams and aspirations that I have for Colby is heartbreaking. Having a child in the NICU is terrifying enough on its own. I cannot even imagine being a parent of a black or brown child, knowing that the fight for life does not end after eventually leaving the hospital. This is devastating and wrong.

To be born in the United States is to be born into a racist nation. This is just a simple fact that is as American as fireworks on the 4th of July or apple pie. Our inability to come to terms with this simple truth, to live in denial, is to not acknowledge the smoldering fire that we as Americans refuse to extinguish.

Before the United States was even a nation, from the time the first Africans were forcibly relocated to our shores in 1619, America relied on the forced labor of a people whom were ripped from their homes and made to live painful lives of servitude. The writers of our constitution literally traveled with slaves as they wrote the words that so many Americans like to pound their chests to while reciting. Choosing not to address this hypocrisy in our founding documents is the first of many examples of Americans choosing to turn a blind eye to blatant atrocities. For the next 250 years, America (not just the South) benefited from this historically brutal practice. America was literally built on the backs of slaves whom lifted our country to a status she would have never achieved if not for the forced labor of a people who did not chose to be here. Our rise to a world power would have been impossible without this immoral source of labor.

And this was only the beginning. After “emancipation” the type of slavery only changed. Even Lincoln himself felt that freed slaves should be relocated to Africa as he saw no way for the mingling of two races—once again refusing to acknowledge a people’s inherent humanity. For the next 100 years blacks faced government sanctioned racism and terrorism. It wasn’t until the mid 1960’s that we as a country even started pretending to consider African Americans as equal. THE MID 60s! This means that for me, my parents still lived in a time in which blacks were legally discriminated against. The thought that all Americans are gifted the same inalienable rights is laughable and insulting to one’s intelligence. For the vast majority of our history from a colonial state to a modern country we weren’t even pretending to hide our racism.

After the end of the abhorrent practices of Jim Crow, we as a country decided to start decimating communities of color by locking generations in jail, by economically paralyzing an entire race, and by suppressing their right to vote for change. “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” Americans like to say. Blacks had their boots ripped off their feet in the 1600s and have been forced to walk barefoot for generations.

Are blacks the only group that have faced or faces significant discrimination in our country? Absolutely not. Poor white people, Latinos, Jews, and basically any immigrant group in our history have fallen under the cross hairs of discrimination within our boarders. As with most complex issues, there are multiple truths. Discrimination targets people of many creeds AND systemically and profoundly targets African Americans. The lives of poor white people matter AND Black Lives Matter. There are police officers that defend those whom they are sworn to protect and do so honorably. There are also those who are a product of 400 years of racist principles—fearing all blacks as criminals and ignoring our most basic tenant of presumed innocence—and target, harm, and murder African Americans in alarming numbers.

ALL of us, myself included, each have our blind spots and inherently racist tendencies. I’ve long felt blessed coming from an accepting family that I was immune to the white supremacy that plagues our nation. Fortunate enough to continue my education through medical school, I cherished meeting a diverse group of friends from all over the country and the world. “I’m above the problem,” I would think. “My eyes are open, and this is a problem for other less ‘woke’ Americans,” I ignorantly thought. This mentality is wrong, lazy, ignorant and a prime example of white privilege. I am a product of generations of hardworking ancestors whom with time have been able to improve the quality of life for subsequent generations of our family. This ability to accumulate generational wealth—part of the American dream– is a privilege so many blacks are not afforded. I was given the opportunity to work hard at a great college to get closer to a degree that would continue this trend of generational advancement, and I was able to do this while graduating from a state school with zero debt. Again, I began the race of adulthood before the starting gun was even shot while countless others are forced to start with their shoelaces tied together.

As we’ve been seeing this past week, it is no longer acceptable to not be racist. We must all be vocally anti-racist. This tactic is our only hope to erase centuries of pain we as a flawed country have collectively experienced. Each of us as individuals need to evaluate ourselves thoroughly and look for our own blind spots and to work to acknowledge and correct them. We as a society need to come together and demand change on a national level and on a human level. Not voting (in national, state, and local elections) is no longer an option. Addressing police brutality, mass incarceration, and income inequality are urgent issues that require our collective efforts. Ending voter suppression. Having a legislative body that reflects our population at large. Keeping an entire cohort of our society less healthy and more susceptible to chronic disease, as COVID has once again reminded us, is just another iteration of the same tactics we as a country have utilized for far too long. These are all enormous problems that will take an enormous effort by every single American.

Enough has to be enough. We all need to be better as humans and as a society. It starts by acknowledging hard truths and admitting that to be American means to share the original sin of systemic racism. As a new father, I refuse to let my son live in such an unjust world.

originally published on Miles Basil FB page

My Son and Grandson

Twenty-seven days after Colby was born, he meets his Dad.

Mother’s Day

My son Miles writes:

Happy first Mother’s Day to this amazing woman.

After what turned out to be the scariest day of our lives, Alie and I welcomed Colby Joseph Basil into the world three months earlier than expected on May 1st, 2020. Weighing in at just under two pounds, Colby is as cute as he is tiny and is growing and fighting everyday in his new NICU home. We already love him beyond words.

I could never begin to explain the bravery that this new mom had to display in the midst of incredible uncertainty and fear, and did it all with grace and courage that blew me away. She did it with great physical and emotional strength and she did it with a husband and new father at her side who was both terrified but also in complete awe of her.

This is a picture of Alie going to meet Colby the day after he was born. Less than 24 hours of recovery after emergency surgery, there is a genuine, beautiful smile behind that mask. In a world packed with anxiety, this mom is once again fearless, positive, and nurturing, and is ready to meet her new baby boy.

Colby is the luckiest boy on the planet to call you mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

I am truly blessed to be in all of their lives.

Friendships, my own + Ginsberg & Kerouac’s

I received a note from a dear old family friend the other day.

I wouldn’t have noted it, but one of the sites I peruse (“LitHub”) had a piece that last Monday was the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s death. Which means he’s been gone longer than he was here.  Apparently, the town of Lowell had a small ceremony. I saw a photo of the grave where some folks had thoughtfully left a couple of bottles of booze. (Or thoughtlessly?  He died of alcoholism.)  I suppose they should also have a left a copy of [the conservative magazine] National Review.  

I am reminded, once again, of the beautiful song “Box of Rain,” by Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter (RIP):  “Such a long, long time to be gone; but a short time to be there.”

I replied:

I believe he and [National Review publisher] William Buckley were friends, actually. (One thing about both of them – they had gifts for friendship, Buckley getting an extra bonus point for being friends with his antagonists, too, for the most part.)

My feelings toward Kerouac have gone up and down over the years. He is unique in the Robert Basil pantheon in that respect, where once you’re in, you’re in for good (Barthes, Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, William Carlos Williams …). I once made a disparaging remark about Kerouac’s poetry to a close friend of mine (a Garcia-Lorca scholar and a poet himself), and he gently chided me, taking me through some of Kerouac’s poems phrase by phrase, waking me back up. Kerouac’s prose, it must be said, relies on some vocabulary crutches in ways his poetry doesn’t – but so many of his books are nonetheless absolutely splendid. (I taught Dharma Bums while I was at Stanford.) 

And finally, he really really inspired me as a writer. The first Kerouac book I owned was a copy of The Dharma Bums that [my brother] Chris gave me – I must have been 19 or 20. I read about half of it sitting in the back of a pick-up truck zooming down route 17 to Manhattan, surrounded by fall foliage. One of my happiest memories.

To celebrate my graduation from university – this was a solitary activity, because literally *nobody* other than my girlfriend believed I had somehow graduated from college, having dropped out so often and, when actually enrolled, having spent almost as much time hitching around the country as attending classes – I read “On the Road” for the fourth or fifth time, cover to cover, back to front (how I read novels), drinking Miller Beer “ponies” and lying in bed, finishing at dawn. Another one of my happiest memories.

I want to share with you a quite moving piece from the New Yorker: “Allen Ginsberg: The Day After Kerouac Died.” It annotates some journal entries and a poem from “The Fall of America.” (My friend and teacher Robert Creeley makes a few appearances.)

The New Yorker / Allen Ginsberg piece brought some tears.

Memory Gardens

Covered with yellow leaves

     in morning rain …

He threw up his hands

& wrote the universe don’t exist

      & died to prove it. …

 

… Jack thru whose eyes I

    saw

    smog glory light

    gold over Manhattan’s spires

will never see these

    chimneys smoking

anymore over statues of Mary

            in the graveyard …

 

Well, while I’m here I’ll

      do the work –

and what’s the work?

      To ease the pain of living.

Everything else, drunken

      dumbshow.