Shankar ’94 on Racial Stereotyping in Advertising

Shalini Shankar ’94

Shalini Shankar ’94

Shalini Shankar ’94, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of Asian American studies at Northwestern University, was invited to appear on  WTTW (the Chicago PBS station) to discuss the recent Ashton Kutcher “brownface” controversy that arose from his Popchips ad. The segment explored representations of Asian Americans and issues of race in advertising.

Host Phil Ponce notes that critics of the ad think it says something about the larger issue of race in America and Shankar agrees.

“I was a bit shocked when I saw the commercial. Usually brownface is not something that is used to sell potato chips and I thought that was a fairly bold move on their part,” she said.

Asked how the incident could be used to further our discussion about race, Shankar said, “We really have to think more systematically about our use of humor in advertising and what work it does in terms of race. What I mean by that is, are there things that happen  through humor in advertising that are not permissible in other social contexts? And so, it sort of positions people who are being caricatured as simplistic or creates this sort of social distance between people who are being mocked and those who are laughing at those people. And those differneces certainly carry over in our everyday interactions with people and how we think about difference and inequality.”

The video is online here.