OPINION: Insights from an “outsider”
on December 10, 2014
“Excuse me, are you two related?”
“Us? Oh no, we’re reporters with Richmond Confidential.”
“Oh, okay,” the elderly man chuckled as he heard our reply. “I saw you two walking around Richmond so fast earlier today, you looked like you were trying to get out of a bad neighborhood or something! You with the blue and that thing over your head, and you with those boots! At first I thought you were a funny-looking couple, but I guess not.”
Candese Charles, another reporter with Richmond Confidential, and I had spent Election Day walking around Richmond working — gathering as much public opinion from residents on the “street” as we could for our publication’s election coverage.
The blue thing I was wearing was a long, flowy dress that I fashioned into a hijab appropriate shirt-dress, and the thing on my head was my hijab. Candese, who happens to be African-American, was wearing knee-high leather boots.
Being “foreign” to Richmond, I find myself thinking about my presence (both physical and not) as an “outsider” and how it affects my reporting.
As a writer from the American-Muslim community, my goal is always to be a “creator” rather than a “reactor” (many post-9/11 American Muslims have fallen into the trap of reacting rather than creating). When I began writing for Richmond Confidential, I made the conscious decision to cover as many stories that created rather than reacted as possible.
Although my headscarf and way of dress may seem a little out of place in Richmond, I always looked for ways to use my background and particular insights to bring into my reporting. For example, as someone with Asian heritage, it was my pleasure to cover Richmond’s Southeast Asian Youth Leadership (SEAYL) group and highlight their work throughout the semester — a community that has largely been underreported when the news isn’t about violence or death. It means recognizing a community for its cultural assets, not its problems.
As reporters, it’s tempting to want to “erase” our backgrounds when we write stories. However, I understand that no matter what I write, my stories will always be shaped and influenced by my past experiences. I’m Muslim, and I’m American. I’m from the Midwest, and I’ve lived on both the East and West Coasts. My parents are Pakistani (and Afghani and Burmese) and I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. The list could go on and on, but I welcome the idea that my present identity is an amalgamation of a lot of unordinary circumstances.
I understand that my perspective is unique, and I happily acknowledge that I’ll always bring a piece of my identity into my reporting. And I’ll go so far as to say that that probably makes my reporting better.
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