Journalism runs in my family. On my dad’s side, my grandfather worked for the post office, but used to write these beautiful essays and when they got published, he would hang them on the wall. And then I have a first cousin who is also a journalist who was a copy editor when before I was a copy editor, and I kind of followed them into the industry. 

And then on my mom’s side of the family, I like to say they’re all just really nosy and gossipy and I get to be nosy for a living.

Karen Hawkins says her personal birthright was rebellion and speaking out against injustice, just as her mother did growing up in segregated Alabama in the 1950s. Speaking out against injustice takes many forms for Karen, who, in addition to being a story editor for The 19th*, has her own website, Rebellious Magazine for Women, and is a board member for the NLGJA, the association of LGBTQ journalists, of which Karen is one.

We talked to Karen for this episode (listen here!). Here are some of the things we learned from her.

Hearing “Yeah but…” from past bosses has been a motivating factor

“I wrote a column 10 years ago: The goalposts kept moving for me in journalism, like, Karen, here are the things that you need to do to get better shifts or to get promoted, or to get a raise or to be, to get more prestigious assignments.

And then I would do them. and there would just always be some reason why it wasn’t good enough. And I just realized over time, nothing I do as a Black queer woman is ever gonna be good enough. And that gets to a James Baldwin quote about how there’s nothing more dangerous than a person who has nothing to lose.

And that’s how I started to feel in journalism. It’s been so liberating. Like nothing I do is ever gonna be good enough for you, so I’m going to make it good enough for me.”

It’s good to be a misfit

“I’m really just trying to be a support system for reporters in the newsroom, specifically reporters of color, and then other misfits. I identify as a misfit and every newsroom … has a dominant culture and there are people who fit within that dominant culture and people who don’t. And so I try to be a resource for people who don’t and  who maybe feel a little out on the, the margins.

I think a misfit is somebody who maybe didn’t come from a super-big mainstream newsroom. We have a lot of people with the 19th that we have this amazing braintrust of talent. A lot of folks who came from really big mainstream newsrooms. Not everybody did. Not everybody wanted to. So not that everybody who has that background is a misfit, but I feel like that’s an example. We’re fortunate to have folks of color. And not that that makes you a misfit, but the dominant culture is not that right across the industry.

Being trans or non-binary. I think we have a lot of folks who are neurodiverse on staff who are super open about that.  And share resources. And I think those are the things that make you, maybe not a misfit, but not as comfortably sitting within the dominant culture.”

The 19th* can lean in to the asterisk

“If you look at our logo, there’s this multicolored asterisk, and we are named for the 19th Amendment. And the asterisk represents the fact that not all women got the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.

Women of color, black women did not get the right to vote. We weren’t talking about gender identity at the time. We weren’t talking about LGBTQ issues at the time. So I feel like this next year is about growth and about sustainability and about really leaning into that asterisk.

How do we do that better?

What I am hoping we do is to try to think about the asterisk as we’re pitching stories and as we’re formulating them so that it’s not on the back end. Do they have statistics for non-binary people or, oh, well what about Black queer people here? Or what about disability, or what about age? That we’re in the conceiving of stories are thinking, you almost have a checklist in your mind of how does my story intersect with all of these other things.”

Listen to the full episode here.