Q&A: Imani Bashir

Imani Bashir is many things: She’s worked the sidelines at major sports events, served as the on-air talent for a number of broadcasts, and proven to be a proud, prolific problem-solver. Whether she is providing innovative reporting for publications such as Business Insider, Glamour, and AfroTech or earning rave reviews for travel products she’s created, Bashir is always honest, incisive, and mother to a 5-year-old. 

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Readers of The Objective may remember Bashir from our December 2020 report, “They spoke up. Now what?”. She was one of a number of media workers that shared their experiences with maltreatment in the media industry. Now, she is creating Takeoff Travel Mag, a new Black travel publication expected to launch this month. Bashir speaks with The Objective about her past experiences and the new one she is currently embarking on.

This interview is edited for length and clarity.

Can you explain to our readers what your path through journalism has been? 

I began in sports and broadcasting. I found that being a Black woman in hijab attempting to matriculate from radio to television was a daunting task. In 2015, I decided to book a one-way ticket abroad and turned my degree into many years of freelance work.

In July 2020, your remote employment at Lifehacker, a G/O Media travel media property, was abruptly terminated, even against your editor-in-chief’s wishes. In December 2020, your experience was part of reporting in The Objective. What has changed for you since?

Since that time, I’ve created my own luggage line called The Takeoff Collection. I have stepped into the realm of being my own boss and wanting to have more control over my day-to-day schedule.

What spurred you to create the Takeoff Collection and why was it important for you to start the collection at that time?

I gave birth abroad in 2017. My son was born in Poland and we have been on a lot of trips and lived in a lot of places together. As a traveling parent, I recognized I often had so many different bags—but nothing that catered to being a traveler with children. After being fired, during the pandemic, it inspired me to just go full-steam-ahead and create something of my own that wasn’t in the market.

Tell us about Takeoff Travel Mag. What is it and what do interested readers need to know about it before its launch?

Takeoff Travel Mag is a passion project that I’ve had as a result of feeling completely sidestepped in this travel industry. I want to create a publication that centers travel through the lens of Black people and people of color. The articles shared won’t just be about “eat here, party here, and sleep here”—[they’ll be] about culture, community, and what’s really impacting the destinations most publications only deep-dive for vacation spotlights.

You have extensive experience and knowledge of the media industry. What was the common obstacle or issue you have encountered that you believe you can do differently?

The most common obstacle was having to really fight for stories that centralized Blackness in some way. I found it much harder to express to editors why these stories mattered, and why they have to be written a certain way, than it should have been. I understand that others’ stories are vital and deserve to have light brought to them. I believe I can see people in the world, see their experiences, and not measure them by DEI standards. 

There’s been a number of startup publications in recent years—notably, Capital B and The 19th*—and some have found success while maintaining a focus on underrepresented identities. What are you learning from them? Where do you think Takeoff Travel differentiates from its peers?

For me, I’m not looking for celebrity adjacency. I just want to tell the stories that matter in this niche of travel. I want people to feel seen and also their cultures and identities. I’m learning that it’s not about being first or having the most features, but staying true to the essence of travel storytelling that we have yet to see.

When we spoke about your experience at Lifehacker in 2020, you told me that you “will continue to speak truth to power and shame racism and white supremacy at every level—openly.” Do you feel like more people are doing that now, compared to when you said it? Over a year later, do you think you and other media workers are in a position to continue speaking truth to power and stay in this industry?

I feel like people are doing it more, but not to the detriment of their own livelihoods. People only give but so much in this fight, and no one’s going to risk their own ass to save yours. It doesn’t even seem like anyone else has connected the dots with what happened to me, what happened to a former queer employee who was fired before me, and what’s happened in the present. That company should be shut down, but people aren’t going to come together and make that happen. Writers are just going to collect their bylines and go.

At Lifehacker, you personally dealt with what it’s like working for G/O Media. Considering the recent actions the company has taken that has led to the high turnover at The A.V. Club and The Root, what are the lessons you believe other journalists take away from those situations, especially Black journalists?

Journalists need to understand that they are their biggest allies. When I went through my situation [with G/O], people would remark, “oh, how sad,” but they weren’t willing to risk anything to find ways to change that toxic work culture. We need more people to speak up and say things with their chest, and we also need others to support, lift them up, and demand better. The time for asking is over.

You said that you believe “Journalists need to understand that they are their biggest allies.” What are some ways journalists in—and out of—newsrooms can help others that are standing up to harmful practices in the industry?

Amplify their voices and call things out when they see it! When there are journalists in the trenches, it’s important that the industry, as a whole, seeks to dismantle whatever biases and bigotry are being displayed against them.

Who were some of the allies that you had that have helped you throughout the issues you’ve encountered?

One of my biggest allies has been a fellow journalist, Yolanda Evans. She has always made sure I know what opportunities are out there, finding ways for me to feed myself and my family. Another has been Yesha Callahan, an editor, who has done the same and looks out for me and my well being. I’ve had several other people who came through with writing opportunities, helping me to stay financially afloat—and I’m so grateful to all of them! 

Of course, your creation of Takeoff Travel is informed by your own extensive traveling experience. Where have you been lately and where are you and your family now?

I have had many trips in the last few months. I’ve been in California, South Africa, and Mexico. I am currently in D.C. and plan to do a lot more travel with my family for the summer.

Where’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to so far?

I can never pinpoint one. So, I’ll say in the last 12 months, it’s been South Africa. I absolutely fell in love with Johannesburg’s beauty and Blackness. The culture and food are so amazing. Overall, it was just a great feeling to be in Africa.

As one person who is always undertaking something new or exploring new possibilities to another, what’s next for you to accomplish in media, with the Takeoff Travel or beyond?

As a freelance writer, I believe I have accomplished what I feel is necessary. I would certainly love a good book deal where I can share more of myself extensively. But as for Takeoff Travel Mag, I hope it will be inspirational for some, aspirational for others, and an ultimate window into the real world.

With the effects of the pandemic, everything in the travel industry is drastically different, as is media. Does the sustainability of travel media worry you at all as you start a new initiative?

Travel media is here to stay. People will always need an escape, even if it’s through a visual aspect as opposed to leaving their homes. But, it’s definitely going to continue.

Considering all of this, tell us: What do you think objectivity is, and how does it impact your work?

I think it’s really a matter of separating facts from feelings. My work is always personal because the stories that I’m telling are some facet of my life, my journey, and my existence in the world. I think objectivity is important when covering subject-matter that impacts marginalized people. We deal with enough bias, and objectivity helps to regulate that just a bit.

Lastly, but not least of all, you have a son, Nasir, who inspired a children’s book series and has already been featured in the New York Times. Do you believe (or secretly hope) he’ll continue down a path toward media work, or do you expect he’ll find a calling elsewhere?

I’m a parent that’s truly about their child growing in their own body and into their own calling. I would want him to do what he feels his spirit is calling him to do, as long as that doesn’t require oppressing or harming folks. My greatest hope is that by the time he’s of an age to make certain decisions, my life’s decisions would’ve set him up to have a multitude of options to pick from.

This piece was edited by Holly Rosewood.

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