Actress Mindy Kaling's formerly unknown brother, Vijay Chokal-Ingam, has garnered some modest attention for, according to his website, pretending to be black, getting accepted into one medical school, and dropping out. Now writing a book about the experience, he's inexplicably convinced that "I got into medical school because I said I was black," and he's on a mission to take down what he calls "affirmative action racism."
Putting aside any debates about the actual value of affirmative action, the experiment proved nothing because it offered no information about whether Chokal-Ingam, who identifies as Indian American, actually got into medical school as a result of saying he was black (which of course was supposed to be the whole point).
Here's what went wrong:
- He didn't apply to the same schools before he started pretending to be black, so we don't have any way to compare the experience of "JoJo" — the name he used when he was pretending to be African American — to his own experience.
- In any case, he was only admitted to one school after applying to more than 20 — not exactly making the case that things were easy for his black alter ego.
- As Gawker's Brendan O'Connor points out, the crux of his "affirmative action discrimination" argument seems to be that he was "invited to apply" to several schools when he was posing as a black man. Again, we don't know whether he would have been invited if he hadn't been pretending to be black, because he didn't seem to measure this.
- And even if he had been able to prove that schools were more likely to invite black applicants, that wouldn't tell us much about the role of race in the admissions process. Invitations are not required to apply. Plus this is a step that takes place before the actual admissions process, likely to diversify the applicant pool. Even if Chokal-Ingam thinks that type of targeted outreach is unfair, it really has no bearing on debates about affirmative action.
- Further muddling his attempted gotcha moment, he admits that at least one of these invitations to apply — the one from Harvard — was from a family friend who knew he was not black. He writes at his website, "Unfortunately, I have long since lost the original letter from Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, (the father of one of my sister's closest friends) inviting me to apply to the school based on my 'superior' MCAT score. I dropped my application to Harvard, fearing that Alvin would expose me as not black." So he can't even argue that all of the invitations that he was so disturbed by were inspired by his fake race.
- As a bonus strike against his "things were so easy when I was black" argument, after dropping out of the one medical school that accepted him, he was admitted to UCLA's MBA program, using his real name and racial identity. (Does he think he was admitted because he was Indian American? Or because he was male? Or because of some other factor? We will never know.)
So according to his story, he changed his entire life to do an experiment with no basis for comparing anything about the actual admissions process for himself as "Vijay" versus "JoJo," and therefore revealed nothing about medical school admissions.
What he did get to compare, though, was the experience of living his daily life as someone who was perceived as Indian American and someone who was perceived as African American.
As Gawker points out, he mentions in passing on his website that he noticed a difference here:
My experiences with racism as an African American include being harassed by policy officers and being accused of shoplifting by store clerks, something I had never experienced when I was just another Indian-American doctor's son.
That's pretty bad. Is he now going to campaign against race-based profiling and harassment that "JoJo" experienced? It doesn't seem that way. His stated hope for his misguided experiment is that it "will be a catalyst for social change and opposition to affirmative action racism."
He's concerned about the "reverse racism" that he has no evidence actually benefited him as fake black person. But he's pretty much unbothered by what his experience validated about actual racism against black people.
This results of this "experiment" (if you can even call it that) tell us a lot about the values of one celebrity's sibling — and why he says Kaling worries that he'll "bring shame on the family" — and not much about anything else.