Affirmative Action Unfair?: What Mindy Kaling’s Brother Gets Wrong
Over the weekend, social media lit up with the news that Vijay Chokal-Ingam, brother of actress and writer Mindy Kaling, pretended to be Black to get into medical school. According to Chokal-Ingam, he couldn’t get into med school as an Indian-American man with a 3.1 GPA so he conducted a little experiment to see if he’d be accepted as a Black man.
Chokal-Ingam explains his “experiment” on his web site, AlmostBlack:
I got into medical school because I said I was black. The funny thing is I’m not.
In my junior year of college, I realized that I didn’t have the grades or test scores to get into medical school, at least not as an Indian-American.
Still, 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?
Chokal-Ingam claims assuming a Black identity immediately made him a top contender at several medical schools, and he was accepted—but later dropped out of—St. Louis University. While he mentioned being racially profiled and feared as a “Black” man, Chokal-Ingam concluded Affirmative Action is “discrimination” against whites and Asians and that it “perpetuates racial stereotypes.”
While Chokal-Ingam believes Affirmative Action is just another form of discrimination against whites and Asians, others view it as a necessary policy that helps underrepresented groups gain access to opportunities they would have missed out on otherwise.
President John F. Kennedy first mentioned Affirmative Action in an executive order in 1961. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order requiring the government to “take affirmative action” to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin.” Since then, the policy has been under constant attack by those who view it as reverse racism, but its effect on minority groups has been clearly positive.
Still, as Chokal-Ingam asserts, many believe the policy is unnecessary and only deepens the racial divide. But he’s wrong. While some equate Affirmative Action with quotas, others know the truth.
So, let’s break it down.
#1 Affirmative Action doesn’t benefit unqualified people.
On his web site, Chokal-Ingam says the public is “lucky” he never became a doctor, presumably because of his mediocre test scores. By saying we’re “lucky,” he’s suggesting that he—and by extension other Black folks—gain access to universities and jobs, despite being unqualified. This isn’t true. While some universities may look at an applicat’s racial background, others consider their alumni ties, community service, and potential to succeed. However, these institutions don’t simply let people in solely because of their race or ethnicity. Had Chokal-Ingam had a 2.0 GPA and very low test scores he would not have gotten into medical school. Period. Affirmative Action doesn’t just benefit anyone; it benefits qualified candidates. Moreover, gaining access to a university or job is only the beginning. The person has to work hard to stay in school, or keep their job, in order to succeed, something Chokal-Ingam couldn’t do when he dropped out of medical school.
#2 Affirmative Action helps white women, too.
When it comes to the Affirmative Action debate the focus is usually on Black and Hispanic folks. However, studies have shown that white women are the biggest beneficiaries of anti-discrimination policies. As an “underrepresented group,” white women have significantly increased their numbers in the workforce due to many of the policies many say solely help racial minorities. In fact, a 1995 study found Affirmative Action opened the door for 6 million women, most of whom were white, to get jobs they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Though many have argued Affirmative Action hurts white people, it has has helped grow the white middle class by giving white women increased access to jobs.
#3 Affirmative Action doesn’t impede racial progress.
Like Chokal-Ingam, many opponents of Affirmative Action argue it impedes racial progress and advocate for a “color-blind” approach to achieving equality instead. The only problem? Color-blindness only leads to less opportunities for marginalized groups because they face greater initial challenges. As the group Understanding Prejudice explains, “Unless preexisting inequities are corrected or otherwise taken into account, color-blind policies do not correct racial injustice — they reinforce it.”
Where do you come down on the Affirmative Action debate?