Angry Reader of the Week: Shalini Shankar

"Basically, I want to know what it all means."

Greetings, good people of the internet. It is time to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Shalini Shankar.

Who are you?

I’m Shalini Shankar, a professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University and the author of the new book Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal about Generation Z's New Path to Success, and two more books (Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Consumers and Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley), plus a bunch of academic articles and op-eds.

What are you?

An immigrant from India who became a U.S. citizen in 1994, a mom to two Gen Z kids and a puppy, and a proud woman of color.

Where are you?

I'm in Evanston, IL for work, in Brooklyn, NY for family, and all over the place for research and talks.

Where are you from?

I was born in Mumbai when it was still called Bombay, but my family is originally from Chennai, when it was still called Madras. We moved to Queens when I was two, and then Rockland County, NY. So I'd say from South India, via North India and New York City/ suburbs.

What do you do?

As an anthropologist, I do research with immigrants and their communities, focusing on their everyday culture and language use. As an Asian American Studies scholar, I look at racial and ethnic representation through language and culture in media. The big questions I've focused on over the last two decades include: Can we think about immigrant contributions to the United States as something other than simply "assimilation"? How can we revise the "model minority" stereotype to make it relevant in 2019, as the U.S. shifts toward a non-white majority? How can we understand youth as an increasingly powerful social force?

In Beeline, I focus on Gen Z kids (born after 1996) I met over several years of research at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Most of them are South Asian American spellers who also participate in a "minor league" spelling bee circuit for kids of South Asian descent. By interviewing these kids, their parents, and others in the spelling bee world, I offer some perspectives on what Generation Z is about, and how they are different than Millennials. I also look at parenting styles, focusing in particular on Gen X parents, Tiger Parents, and what I call "Bee Parents," to think about how people are raising their kids in different ways and how this can shape their priorities and their potential roles in society.

What are you all about?

Basically, I want to know what it all means. I love to analyze things, especially the transforming world we live in. I became an anthropologist to study culture, language, race, media, and youth. Working with kids in my research has been especially uplifting because so many of them still have hope and optimism about the world and their ability to change it. Young people -- in my research, classroom, or home -- fuel me because they have a brightness that radiates. They are the perfect tonic for academia, which can be very cynical and demoralizing, especially for faculty of color.

What makes you angry?

White fragility, toxic masculinity, people who "don’t see race," xenophobes who won't admit they are settler colonialists, climate change deniers, Hindu fundamentalists, and the squiggly red lines under words I know are real and spelled correctly.

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