Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mindy Kaling's brother posed as a black to get into med school

Fighting affirmative action

Vijay Chokal-Ingam, left. His alter ego, Jojo, right.
MINDY KALING, comedian and actress, made a television commercial where she believed she was invisible because that's the way American society treats minorities - as if they weren't there - right in front of their noses.

Kaling's older brother Vijay Chokal-Ingam has authored a book, "Almost Black," that is stirring up so much controversy over race that Mindy may be wishing that he would simply vanish.

Kaling and her brother are children of immigrants from India. He applied to medical school with so-so academics and mediocre MedCAT scores and was ultimately rejected. After altering his appearance slightly, he applied to medical schools as a African American student and was accepted.

His premise, which probably has many white conservatives chortling with glee, is that affirmative action doesn't work because its beneficiaries (in his case: African Americans) with lower requirements exclude qualified candidates, especially Asian Americans. 

In his book, Chokal-Ingam says that he wants to fight what he calls a “system of legalized racism” in higher education. He applied to a score of medical schools but was accepted at only one, St. Louis University. We assume he didn't make the grade in all the other schools, which included Yale and Harvard.

A spokesman for St. Louis medical school said that Chokal-Ingam met their criteria and race was not factor. In his mind, Chokal-Ingam getting accepted in one - ONE - medical school proves that affirmative action was the deciding factor. 

"I was determined to become a doctor and I knew that admission standards for certain minorities under affirmative action were, let's say .. less stringent?" he writes on his website.

There's little evidence to suggest his posing as a "black" applicant helped him get into these schools. First, there is no point of comparison: Chokal-Ingam never applied to medical schools as an Indian-American.

“I hope the story of my experiences will be a catalyst for social change and opposition to affirmative action racism,” he wrote on his website.

His book and its conclusions have been roundly criticized and apparently went against the wish of his younger sister Mindy.

Kaling's press rep told Us Weekly"Mindy has been estranged from her brother for years. She was not aware of his decision to apply to medical school under a different name and race."

Chokal-Ingam doesn't mention whether or not he reapplied to the same medical schools that rejected him the first time nor does he admit that the whole history of discrimination and bias against African Americans that still impacts their lives today had any influence on his second round of applications.

Posing as an African American student with the same grades and MCAT scores as the Indian American applicant, in 1999 he was accepted into St. Louis University School of Medicine but dropped out after two years.

“Not everything worked out as planned. Cops harassed me. Store clerks accused me of shoplifting. Women were either scared of me or couldn’t keep their hands off me. What started as a devious ploy to gain admission to medical school turned into a twisted social experiment.”

He got a brief taste of what it means to be African American but he failed to learn anything from those experiences. Instead, he positions himself in the same category of his alleged heroes Mahatma Ghandi, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

In his eyes, the story is about him as a victim, as a sacrificial lamb, but the real story is about him as a liar and an opportunist trying to achieve his 15 minutes of fame. 

As might be expected, he got some strong criticism in reaction.

"Whatever you feel about affirmative action, let's consider that one person's experience over a decade and a half ago -- an experience that ultimately didn't yield any deluge in acceptance letters anyway -- is not really indicative of the current state of college admissions," wrote Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams.

"Nor is it necessarily an exemplary window into the complex and mysterious vetting process of elite institutions," she added. "Instead, Chokal-Ingam's story is one of a successful woman's brother liberally using her name to drum up attention and controversy."

His famous younger sister tried to dissuade him from going public with his deed saying "it would bring shame to the family." He says the tension between him and his celebrity sister is common sibling rivalry.

Conservatives have been trying to pit Asian Americans against African Americans in the affirmative action debate for years now, arguing that qualified Asians have been denied college admission because of affirmative action even though polls show that Asian Americans favor affirmative action.

Currently there are lawsuits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina using that very argument even though the plaintiffs are not Asians but shadow organizations with questionable origins posing as civil rights advocates.

Right now, Chokal-Ingam is the conservatives' darling and I expect he'll milk it as much as he can in order to sell his book. I would not be surprised to see him on a Fox News talk show as Exhibit A in the "we're-not-racist because a person-of-color is the one attacking affirmative action" ploy.

If he really wanted the full black experience, he should try applying for jobs or a mortgage as an African American; he should explain to the police officer that he's not really black when he gets pulled over and harassed; he should try taking a stroll in a predominantly white neighborhood in Anywhere, USA.

I'm truly very sorry, Mindy.

RELATED: Asians and Affirmative Action