Mindy Kaling’s now infamous brother Vijay Chokalingam created a furore across the Internet last week with his publicity campaign, ‘Almost Black’.
In a twisted social experiment back in 1998, he, as the child of Indian-American migrants, pretended to be a black applicant named Jojo in the hope of getting accepted into medical school. He was successful in gaining admission into one, but only after being rejected by 13 others. Still, Chokalingam is convinced that what this shows is that Blacks garner special privileges at the expense of Asian Americans.
Put simply, it’s a blatant attempt to exploit affirmative action admission policies at Ivy Leagues in order to decry their validity.
This exploitation isn’t too far removed from home—Jacqui Lambie claiming Indigenous heritage, despite the community elder and acknowledged direct descendant of the clan rejecting such claims—comes to mind. At Australian universities, all applicants are asked if they identify with ATSI backgrounds, and there are special scholarships or admission schemes in place for those who do.
By Chokalingam’s rationale, this would be a form of discrimination by favouring indigenous students over other minorities. At the heart of his argument lies the idea that we need to move into a ‘post-racial
world’: a world where an applicant’s merit trumps their race, skin colour and family background, and colour-blind policies prevail to give everyone a fair go.
As nice as this idea may sound, it’s an ignorant and privileged one, created by white conservatives and propped up by people of colour who have lived through racial struggles, but eventually overcome them. Some immigrants, particularly those from Asian and South Asian backgrounds, believe that if you can survive moving to a new country and ‘make it’, then the key to achieving economic mobility is through hard work rather than through policies aimed at addressing institutionalised inequalities. Their success is often pitted against Blacks, and they question why they have managed achieved so much and their counterparts have not.
It’s also a myth widely known as ‘model minority’: a carrot-and-stick approach offered to certain groups, like Asians who are ‘good at Math’ or Indians who can ‘fix your computers’, so that they fit a Western mould of ‘Asian values’ and cease to question why they serve a system that divides and distributes against people of colour, rather than white people, in the first place.
Skilled migrants are at an educational advantage—they are likely to have received elite education in their countries of origin, and are more likely to be favoured through pre-existing skills and occupations. And yet, they do ‘well’, but only after having been on the receiving end of racist slurs and shitty working conditions when they worked at 7/11, or as taxi drivers, to get to where they are now.
For the Asian and South Asian community, academic success is seen as a matter of survival. Often the reason why families choose to migrate in the first place is to provide their children with a good Western education. But they are more than just products of academic machines, and their accomplishments shouldn’t be viewed within a narrow-minded approach that pits them against other minorities.
Rather than the dissatisfaction with ‘Blacks stealing out spots’, Chokalingam would be better off challenging the model minority myth. And that would also put an end to his embarrassing racist farce that, as his sister herself articulated so well, “brings shame” to other brown people.