NPR’s Meghna Chakrabarti Addresses Culture and Profession
by Anooshka Gupta on Thursday, March 10th, 2016
It’s a common perception that Indians excel in math-and science-based fields. This stereotype, partly propagated by Indian parents’ internalized bias, has been passed on through generations. Indian parents– believing science and technology jobs pay the most– often push their children to pursue a career in STEM. However, journalist Meghna Chakrabarti challenged these stereotypes during South Asian Society’s March 2nd, Wednesday Assembly.
Chakrabarti’s family came to the United States from India in the 1970s, a few years before she was born. After writing a letter to one of her favorite journalists, and getting an intern job at WBUR Radio Boston, Chakrabarti now hosts two radio shows, Hear and Now, and Modern Love. Chakrabarti has interviewed presidential candidates, scientists, politicians, and survivors from terrorist attacks.
Alluding to the bias many Indian children face as they grow up, Chakrabarti mentioned her parents’ expectations for her to become successful in a STEM field. She felt like a model minority because her parents had immigrated to this country with little money and sacrificed so that she and her brother would have more opportunities. To fully explain this sentiment, Chakrabarti played part of a Master of None episode that highlighted the differences in first and second generation immigrant childhoods. In the episode, Dev, portrayed by Aziz Ansari, enjoys various conveniences because he lives in the United States while Dev’s father wasn’t even allowed to purchase a guitar as a young boy. Although this scenario may be exaggerated, the basic outline holds true and is still relevant to many immigrant families. Despite the pressure she felt throughout her childhood to become a scientist, doctor, or mathematician, Chakrabati began her career in journalism after majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University.
South Asian Society hoped that Chakrabarti’s talk would strike a balance between the relevance of her Indian identity in journalism and her journey into the profession. Addressing her identity, Chakrabati said that in general, she does not feel ostracized by her South Asian descent. However, she conceded that she has experienced certain situations in which people have focused on her difference in pronunciation. Some examples she shared with the Milton community involved a woman being unable to understand her name because she believed Chakrabarti didn’t say her name slowly enough and another man who didn’t appreciate her pronunciation of the word “demurs.” Despite the seemingly strange connotation placed with these moments, Chakrabarti emphasized that she chose to address these microaggressions as honest mistakes.
Chakrabarti also delineated the difference between spoken news and written news, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of each medium. Chakrabarti said she enjoys radio because spoken word makes news visible. “You can hear the interviewee’s pauses, speed, and inflection in his voice,” she says. This form of broadcasting news makes people seem more “human” because the listener experiences the peaks and valleys of the interviewee’s emotions throughout the piece. By contrast, the written medium makes gauging the writer’s intended impact difficult. This ambiguity can translate into microaggressions as well since one doesn’t know if the other person is intending to offend or to make a joke.
Overall, Chakrabarti deepened the Milton Community’s sense of generalized Indian expectations while also illuminating the niches of radio journalism as an important and fascinating career.
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