Mindy Kaling’s Brother’s Blackface Experiment Tells Us Nothing

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Racist Nonsense

Mindy Kaling’s Brother’s Blackface Experiment Tells Us Nothing

Imani Gandy

In 1998, Mindy Kaling's brother Vijay Chokal-Ingam posed as a Black man to get into medical school in an attempt to prove that affirmative action in the admissions process is “legalized racism." In reality, his little "experiment" proves nothing apart from the fact that Chokal-Ingam is full of it.

Mindy Kaling’s brother Vijay Chokal-Ingam is a self-described “affirmative action hacktivist”—whatever that means—who is pitching a book called Almost Black. It details his circa 1998 adventures in Blackface, when he posed as a Black man to get into medical school in an attempt to prove that affirmative action in the admissions process is “legalized racism” against Asian-American, Indian-American, and white applicants. Considering that Chokal-Ingam’s primary claim to fame is that he is “Mindy Kaling’s brother/nemesis,” per his Twitter bio, his shenanigans would not be noteworthy except he is leveraging his sister’s celebrity to book appearances on Fox News and other outlets, where he is pretending that his little “experiment” actually proves something about affirmative action. In reality, it does not.

Chokal-Ingam claims that he knew he wouldn’t be able to get into medical school as an Indian-American with his mediocre GPA and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, but that he had heard that the requirements for Black applicants were far less stringent. So he figured, “What the hell! I’ll try my hand as a Black man.” He shaved his head, trimmed his “long Indian eyelashes,” and voila! Instant Black man. (He didn’t even need to add water!)

And thus, Jojo Chokalingam—and his ridiculous failure of a social experiment—was born.

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“Which one got into medical school?” Chokal-Ingam asks. The answer, it turns out, is “the only one who applied.”

Vijay Chokal-Ingam never applied to medical school; only his alter-Negro Jojo Chokalingam did. And even then, “Jojo” was rejected by 93 percent of the schools to which he applied. (The only school that accepted him was St. Louis University Medical School, which is not a top-tier school. It is currently ranked #57 nationwide, and it’s unlikely its ranking was much higher back in 1998, when Jojo Chokalingam applied.)

Indeed, Chokal-Ingam admitted he only applied to medical school under one identity in an interview with BuzzFeed News yesterday. “I am one person, I’m not two people, so I can’t actually apply twice.”

So now that his social experiment has been unmasked as an utter failure, Chokal-Ingam is switching tactics. Rather than relying on actual data—because he has none—he is relying on personal anecdotes to draw sweeping conclusions about affirmative action.

First of all, the fact that schools like St. Louis University are committed to diversity is not surprising. Almost every school has an Office of Minority Affairs dedicated to finding qualified applicants who are either economically disadvantaged or members of a traditionally underrepresented minority group. These schools believe that diversity on campus is beneficial to the student body at large and apply various factors to ensure a robust and diverse student population. Without more information on SLU’s admissions process, Chokal-Ingam’s statement about SLU’s commitment to double minority enrollment tells us nothing.

Second of all, as Jenn points out at Reappropriate,

Chokalingam’s application, while mediocre, is not weak enough to disqualify him from finding a middle-tier medical school—such as SLU—that would accept him having nothing to do with whether he lied or was honest about his race.

Holistic review assesses all factors about a candidate in a non-determinative manner and would have considered his low GPA alongside, for example, the fact that he had an interest in politics and was a National Merit Scholar. Holistic review simply does not treat race as a determinative factor.

Acceptance to graduate school requires more than a combination of the right GPA and standardized test scores. So ultimately, Chokal-Ingam’s anecdotal tales about his unnamed Indian-American friends who couldn’t get interviews tell us nothing.

Plus, Chokal-Ingam didn’t just lie about his race back in 1998. He is lying—or at least misrepresenting the facts—about the reason that he was invited to apply to certain schools as a Black man. In the section of his website labeled “Documentation,” Chokal-Ingam repeatedly claims he was invited to apply to various prestigious schools based on his MCAT scores.

Not necessarily.

The reason that Chokal-Ingam received so many invitations from top-tier schools is because he chose to be included in a registry of students comprised of those who are economically disadvantaged or a member of a historically underrepresented minority group. The registry is called the Medical Minority Applicant Registry or Med-MAR for short, and it is run by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the organization that runs the centralized medical school admissions process. According to AAMC’s website, medical schools “whose mission is to increase opportunities for students historically underrepresented in medicine” distribute application materials to students in the Med-MAR registry.

By signing up for the registry as a Black man, “Jojo” all but ensured that he would receive applications and interviews. (Incidentally, Indian-Americans are not considered a minority group that is historically underrepresented in medical schools, so that may explain why his Indian-American friends did not receive interviews or invitations to apply.)

So when Chokal-Ingam claims in the “Documentation” section of his website that he received invitations from Columbia, Dartmouth, and Cornell—all Ivy league institutions—based on his outstanding MCAT scores, he is simply not telling the truth. The invitation letters from those schools don’t even mention his MCAT scores, but Dartmouth and Cornell’s do mention that they saw him on the registry.

The bottom line is this: Chokal-Ingam is full of crap. He is simply repeating well-worn arguments against affirmative action and contributing nothing new to the conversation.

For example, he claims that affirmative action “promotes negative stereotypes about the competency of minority Americans by making it seem like they need special treatment.”

Affirmative action opponents have been making this claim for decades—a claim that I reject, by the way, because in reality, it is racism and white supremacy that promote negative stereotypes about the competency of minority Americans, not a program that was designed to even the playing field that has forced Black, Hispanic, and indigenous Americans to start the game 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Besides, I wonder if his sister Mindy would agree? After all, her hit show The Mindy Project was originally developed as a part of NBC’s diversity writing program. And given the dearth of shows produced and starring women of color, is Chokal-Ingam prepared to argue that people of color like his sister don’t need programs to help them get their foot in the door?

Finally, if Chokal-Ingam were honest, he would be complaining that affirmative action unfairly benefits women, not Black people. After all, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women. White women have increased their numbers among the ranks of lawyers, doctors, engineers, chemists, architects, and faculty members, as a result of affirmative action policies.

But good luck convincing them of that. As essayist and author Tim Wise argued in 1998, many white women refuse to admit they have benefited from affirmative action because to do so might remind them of their “potential victimization by sexist structures, a subject about which they would rather not be reminded, particularly since they have a significant stake in believing the system is fair—namely, their racial stake, which guarantees them opportunities generally off-limits to most people of color.” 

By racializing discussions of affirmative action in the way Chokal-Ingam has, conservatives and other subpar thinkers have convinced White Women™ (that’s white women the franchise, not every single individual white woman) to align their interests with white men, even though it is white men that are and have always been the root cause of white women’s oppression. (White women frequently shoot themselves in the foot and align against their own interest. We see this when it comes to electoral politics, too, as my colleague Andrea Grimes argued in a piece imploring white women to get their shit together.)

Ultimately, Chokal-Ingam has brought nothing new to the table. He has simply continued the conservative tradition of racializing the conversation about affirmative action in order to maintain the lie that it is a handout to unqualified Black people who are stealing spots that belong to other more qualified people. That’s all Chokal-Ingam’s “experiment” is: A lie designed to preserve a lie.