The Feministing Five: Richelle Carey

Richelle Carey is an Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist. She can be found anchoring CNN HLN every weekday. Her reporting assignments range from covering Fort Hood in Texas, the largest military installation in the world, to interviewing singers like Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, and Janet Jackson. On top of her Emmy award for consumer features reporting, she was awarded the “Women Changing the World” award from Texas College.

What she’s most passionate about, however, is women and girls. She is vice president of the board of Men Stopping Violence, an organization dedicated to ending men’s violence against women. She also launched a new website in the hopes of sparking genuine dialogue on the issues that affect women and girls. She writes about racism in television casting, the politics of hair for African-American women, and domestic violence. Carey’s advocacy work both on and off air is an inspiration. It’s encouraging to know that there are journalists out there like her who are passionate and brave enough to speak up about these vital women’s issues.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Richelle Carey.

Anna Sterling: What makes you so passionate about empowering women and girls?

RC: You would think it would be a combination of going to an all-girls school and going to Smith. But it really wasn’t. I feel like I’m a late bloomer [to these issues]. Some of the stories that I report started to sink in for me. I started to realize the kinds of choices my mother made that allowed me to have the kind of life that I have. I realized how difficult it was for her as a black woman growing up when she did. After some of the stories I reported, I realized what other people had to go through for my life to be as cushy as it is. I had to look outside of myself and give back–not just ride on someone else’s coattails.

The moment I got off my rear end and decided to do something was after the Chris Brown and Rihanna story. It deeply affected me because I saw the kinds of things viewers said about that story and about Rihanna. That’s when victim blaming really started to sink in for me. Also, with the Ben Roethlisberger case, I was blown away by the kinds of things people said about women.

AS: What, to you, is the biggest story you’ve covered thus far in your career?

RC: For two years, I’ve gotten to go to the Essence music festival. What I like about going to this festival is that I get to interview really strong women. That’s always really exciting to me. I’ve gotten to interview Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, and Chaka Khan. Those three women are so amazing to me, because they’re very honest about how they’ve grown as women and about mistakes they’ve made. One of the questions I asked Mary J. Blige was, “When did you feel like you owned yourself?” She said: “Last year.” This would have been when she was 40. She talked about life being a journey and getting wiser and wiser every year. I asked Chaka Khan what was one of the worst mistakes she ever made and what she said to me was: selling herself for cheap. Sometimes it just takes growing up to understand your worth. I love having conversations with women about what it means to grow into being a woman.

AS: How has your race or gender played into your journalism career?

RC: People have said to my face: “I’m not going to get the job because they only want minorities now. They’re not hiring white people anymore.” Hmmm, really? You could look at the racial makeup of a newsroom and they have a formula. You can see if there’s already someone of color there, I need not apply because they already have my slot filled. So it works both ways. Having said that, I do think we have gotten a little bit away from that formula in a good way. There was a time that that’s exactly how newsrooms worked. They had this box, this box, and this box and if your box was already filled, there was no reason for you to apply. We’ve gotten a little bit away from that, but I do think we could use a lot more diversity behind the scenes. When you have discussions about how to pick the news of the day, that’s where the power is and you need as diverse a newsroom as possible. Images are powerful so, yes, you need diversity on air but you need diversity behind the scenes as well in picking stories. That’s what I think I bring to the table. I try to contribute something to the newsroom that I think is representative–I don’t speak for the entire black community, but I do bring my life experiences to the newsroom. I have a responsibility to do that. I’ve heard people say things in the newsroom where I’m like, let me help you, that is so awful. They don’t mean any harm, they just don’t know.

[In terms of gender,] I remember it used to be women were expected to wear suits. The thinking was, don’t draw attention to yourself. Sit there and look as much like a man as possible. Female anchors will now wear dresses and be as feminine as they want to be. I realized you don’t have to downplay who you are. We don’t have to downplay who we are as women to have this job. That’s somebody else’s problem. That’s not our problem.

AS: How do you combine your advocacy work with your career as a broadcast journalist?

RC: What I’ve been able to work out with my boss is a certain space where I’m allowed to be an advocate on certain stories and that’s women’s and girls’ issues. Viewers will understand I have a certain perspective on those stories because I owe it to viewers to be transparent on that. Other stories, it’s up to me to be as neutral as possible. A journalist has to tread very lightly when choosing to do opinion. For the most part, you don’t want journalists to do opinion, but if you’re going to venture into advocacy journalism, you have to be very specific about what that area is. You’re not going to see me on television saying whether or not I think Casey Anthony is guilty. I practice advocacy journalism as it pertains to women and girls and that’s it. For example, there’s the Marissa Alexander case, the woman in Florida who was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gun into the air even though her husband said in his deposition “I put hands on all my women,” she’s the one who went to jail. I immediately went to my executive producer and said, “Let’s get on this now.”

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

RC: Princess Leia. She’s a badass, period. I know Hans Solo tries to get the upper hand when she’s like, “I love you” and he says, “I know.” But, whatever, I’m going to go with Princess Leia because I love Star Wars. For real life heroines, it would be my mother and my grandmother. Also, the late Governor Ann Richards. I’m from Texas and I think she’s one of the most phenomenal people there ever was. Somebody else that I think a whole lot of right now and who really gets it right is Ashley Judd. I like her a lot. I listen to just about everything she says and read everything she writes.

AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

RC: Beer and BBQ with Ann Richards.

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