I keep stumbling upon the assertion that The Mindy Project and Mindy Kaling’s Office character Kelly Kapoor are somehow “too white” or “too privileged.” As if the only valid South Asian narrative is curry-soaked and accented, a tale of oppression and being The Other. Are those really our two options: too white or too Outsourced-and-Apu? Bullshit.
There isn’t just one Indian story and definitely not just one diasporic, second and third generation story. We’re not all characters in a Jhumpa Lahiri novel, growing up miserable in the midst of a pathos-laden struggle for assimilation. (Okay, I had a little pathos, but that’s neither here nor there.) Kaling has made no bones about not “feeling” Indian. Her social circle is white. She went to private school, graduated from Dartmouth, her name is anglicized…but guess what? That doesn’t make her any less than a woman who goes to temple every weekend and wears saris and knows how to make rooti-thorkari from scratch. We all still came from the same place. Kaling’s mother is Bengali and so is mine. Kaling did improv in college and so did I. Before I moved to New York, all of my friends — aside from the ones made in our South Asian community — were white. Gasp. Alert the media. Oh, wait, I am the media.
I don’t fault Kaling for not creating and starring in a show that plays to stereotype, to the preconceived notion of what being of South Asian descent is. Based on the pilot, could the show be more diverse? Sure. Could TV-Mindy be a little less obnoxiously privileged? Sure. But that can be said about almost any show on TV. And I’m not going to give Glee or Two Broke Girls or Modern Family brownie points for having more of a mix when their racial diversity consists of broad stereotypes of sassy women of color and explanations of an “Asian F.” And maybe Kaling herself is obnoxiously privileged and, guess what, that’s okay. She shouldn’t have to show humility when no one else in Hollywood does. And I know plenty of rich, snotty South Asians. We’re not all humble, benevolent little brown folks just “glad to be nominated.” We have underachievers and overachievers, nice people and assholes. We have scientists, politicians, teachers and doctors and, yes, motel owners and 7/11 workers. Some of us can speak a second or third language. Some of us can’t. We’re not a monolith, in other words. And expecting Mindy Kaling to be our cultural ambassador is ridiculous. Particularly when no one expects it of, say, Kal Penn and the Harold & Kumar franchise.
The Mindy Project is precisely what it says on the tin: Mindy’s project. It’s not Mala’s Project or Neela’s Project or Suparna’s Project. Not Rajesh’s Project or Auntie-and-Uncle’s Project. So…stop projecting.