Kamna Shastri: Wants more nuanced narratives

Kamna Shastri is The Seattle Globalist’s Community Journalist of the Year.

A former intern and contributor with The Seattle Globalist, Kamna is currently the program manager at Tasveer, which uses South Asian film and art to encourage conversations about social justice and human rights. We are honoring Kamna for her dedication to community journalism in print, online and radio and for her versatility and commitment to serving underrepresented voices.

The Globalist will honor Kamna at our 2018 Globie Awards gala on Friday, October 26, 2018. The Globalist caught up with Kamna to talk about her work and her aspirations as a journalist.

What drives you in your passion for doing journalism?

I strongly believe stories have the power to suspend judgment if only momentarily. They force you to at least consider another kind of life, a scenario different from your own. I’ve often been surprised when I realize I can relate to a person’s emotions and driving factors even when their viewpoint is different from mine.

I think journalism is a make-it or break-it field where narratives are created, reinforced and broken; a journalist can either pigeonhole an entire community or provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of a person, place, issue or group. I’ve wanted more nuanced narratives my whole life, especially narratives about race, ethnicity, culture and the human-nature divide. I’ve been searching through libraries, newspaper articles, on Netflix and YouTube. Whatever I find is never enough. I am driven by my inherent need to fill that void. My hope as a journalist is to do my best to elevate the stories of communities and individuals who have been forced into a single narrative.

What news story have you reported on are most proud of?

It’s so hard to choose just one — every story has had its own challenges and required different levels of research. I am probably most proud of a piece I took on as a newbie freelancer about InterIm Community Development Area’s Community Action Plan for Seattle’s Chinatown International District. It’s close to my heart because I had to pitch it on my own and it took four months to complete. The South Seattle Emerald finally agreed to publish it.

I’m most proud of the process I took to write this piece. I corroborated multiple sources from various neighborhood agencies, looked at King County health data, and researched the history of the CID. At the time, I was also working at The Wing Luke Museum, getting immersed in the International District — Chinatown’s history and learning about the neighborhood from people who live and work there. While I may not have used all the material I had researched and jotted down in my notes, these elements reminded me that any article requires multiple approaches to gathering information. Writing this piece and getting immersed in the neighborhood also helped me find community and a sense of place which has inspired me to keep writing and creating.

What stories are out there that you feel most need being told? Who’s voices do you think have the most need to be elevated?

I am so tired of seeing media narratives that misrepresent communities of color, their cultures and traditions. I’m tired of seeing narratives where a whole culture or people is covered from a white, Eurocentric narrative. I crave stories that break the overused tropes of immigrants who are struggling and people of color who are painted as inherently marginalized. I want stories of celebration, that honor people who are keeping their traditions alive, and who not only show resilience and resistance to dominant oppressions through vocal protest and petitions, but quietly build strength within their communities and families.

I also want to elevate the voices of people who are not represented in our national conversation about race. There are people who don’t fit into the Black/white binary that defines conversations about race. Identity has so much nuance, and there are as many identities as people. When our media stories only focus on a certain kind of identity dilemma, then we limit our understand of all the different kinds of identities people hold. I think opening up various conversations about identity is integral to creating connections in an increasingly polarized world.

How do you feel like you are evolving as a writer and as a journalist?

I’m learning to be patient. Good work takes time and many tries. I’ve learned that it is not enough to just “get your thoughts out on paper.” You have to go through and revisit the logic of your argument, the scenes, and quotes you are using to tell a specific story.

As a journalist, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t always expect a clear conclusion, and that there doesn’t need to be one at all. What matters is that the facts are represented fairly, situated within a clearly explained and researched context, and that their impact is clearly explained.

I am constantly questioning the impact of journalism and my choice to be in this field. But rather than let these questions get me down, I’ve started to use them to push me. How can I ensure that I am not sabotaging the stories of and speaking for the people featured in my pieces? How do I make sure to give space to an individual’s or community’s voice when that voice is filtered through another party — me? With these questions constantly on my mind, I feel challenged to approach my work with thoughtfulness, to put away my ego, and to open myself to approaching stories in new ways.

Kamna Shastri will be recognized as the Community Journalist of the Year at the 2018 Globie Awards on Friday, October 26, 2018 at Georgetown Ballroom. For tickets and more information, visit www.seattleglobalist.com/globies.