(H/T M. Holt)
Did y’all know Mindy Kaling had a brother?
Yeah, neither did I. Turns out that the star of the hit comedy The Mindy Project has an older brother named Vijay. A quick Google search of his name reveals little: on the internet, he exists entirely in the form of short quotes (one to Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, the other to Parade, another to the New York Times) about how awesome his sister is. He is also listed as a surviving child in his mother’s obituary. On a fansite for The Office, Vijay trawled for threads about his sister and shamelessly name-dropped that he was related to her (Update: link no longer active). On Twitter, he has a scant 230 followers (at the time of this publication) despite having been on the microblogging site for four years as a self-described “anti-affirmative action hacktivist” (#tcot?). In his Twitter bio, he tells us that the most pertinent detail about his life is that he’s related to Mindy Kaling.
Yet, Chokalingam is making news today in super-Rightwing news media outlets: in early March, Chokalingam released details of a book pitch documenting his efforts to gain admission into medical school by donning Blackface fifteen years ago.
Yes, you read that right: Mindy Kaling’s brother says he wore Blackface for more than two years while applying to and attending medical school.
What. The. Fuck.
Here’s the story: Vijay Chokalingam is the child of two health professionals who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From 1995-1999, he attended the University of Chicago — ranked #4 in the country — as an undergraduate where he majored in economics. In the summers of 1994-1997, Chokalingam also took summer courses at Harvard University’s Extension School, the school’s online campus. As an incoming freshman, Chokalingam was awarded a University of Chicago National Merit Scholarship and brought with him nearly 40 AP credits. Yet, as an undergraduate student, Chokalingam proved himself as simply “mediocre” (his words, not mine): by the time of his junior year, Chokalingam had a 3.1 GPA, had joined the campus Republican group as Treasurer (of course), and when he took his MCATs in August of 1998, he scored a 31Q.
For reasons that have surely been retconned into a “subversive” “social experiment”, Chokalingam submitted applications to medical school in the Fall 1998 while describing himself as “Black”. Chokalingam chose to submit his GPA, his MCAT score, and his essay (discussing his belief that doctors should work towards an “efficient and profitable medical system” by not forgetting the “business aspect” of medical care) to 26 top- and middle-tier medical schools around the country while disguising himself as a Black man named “Jojo Chokalingam” (Jojo is Chokalingam’s middle name).
In his blog/book website — a totally retro Web 1.0 design that looks like it was constructed by a pimple-faced 13 year old who just installed the freeware version of Macromedia Dreamweaver off of an old trial CD of AOL Online he found in his parents’ basement — Vijay claims that his subsequent admission to St. Louis University School of Medicine (ranked #57th in the country) was evidence of affirmative action’s “less stringent” standards for minority applicants.
I call total and utter bullshit.
In the tall tale that he is spinning on conservative news this week, Chokalingam neglects a few critical details. First of all, Chokalingam fails to emphasize that he was rejected from or waitlisted to most of the medical schools he applied to: Columbia University, Cornell University, George Washington University, Mount Sinai, University of Nebraska, Nobay, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester, University of Pennsylvania, Washington University, University of Wisconsin, Yale University, and Case Western. In addition, Chokalingam withdrew his application from a few schools midway through the application process, likely when he realized that rejections from these schools would go against his anti-affirmative action agenda; those include: Vanderbilt University and Harvard University.
Finally, Chokalingam makes hay out of the fact that he received an invitation to apply from other schools based on his MCAT score — mostly lower-tier schools such as Ohio University’ School of Homeopathic Medicine — without noting that he likely received those letters for no other reason than because his MCAT score actually was within the range acceptable to these schools. As anyone who has taken any sort of standardized test — SAT, LSAT or MCAT — knows, exam providers sell our information to low-level schools for the purposes of recruiting applicants, and unsolicited invitation letters and other materials are sent regardless of one’s score. Chokalingam is literally trying to make a big deal out of his junk mail.
Rather than to emphasize that Chokalingam-in-Blackface was ultimately rejected from thirteen medical schools — a whopping 93% of those he applied to — Chokalingam would have us focus on the fact that he was accepted into a single medical school: St. Louis University School of Medicine. Of course, he concludes, he only got in because he was (playing at) Black, right?
There’s one problem with that assessment: St. Louis University School of Medicine isn’t that great a medical school (sorry, SLU grads).
Chokalingam’s application, while mediocre, is not weak enough to disqualify him from finding a middle-tier medical school — such as SLU — that would accept him having nothing to do with whether he lied or was honest about his race. His MCAT score was a 31Q which put him in the top 17th percentile of test-takers, and within a point of the average MCAT score of SLU’s incoming freshman class. Although his GPA was lower than the average GPA of those admitted to SLU, he was applying from one of the top undergraduate institutions in the country (GPA is weighted during holistic review according to quality of undergraduate institution) and his academic record suggested that his GPA was low but improving. Also, as an economics major who has interned in a political campaign, Chokalingam hailed from an unusual academic background that would have caught the eye of admissions officials.
There is absolutely no conclusive evidence that Chokalingam was accepted to SLU because he lied in his application about his race. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that had Vijay Chokalingam submitted the same application under his actual name and race, he wouldn’t have been accepted anyways; the image embedded above from Chokalingam’s website is misleading, because he provides no evidence that he was ever rejected from medical school while being honest about who he is. Holistic review assesses all factors about a candidate in a non-determinative manner and would have considered his low GPA alongside, for example, the fact that he had an interest in politics and was a National Merit Scholar. Holistic review simply does not treat race as a determinative factor.
(To complicate the matter, Chokalingam freely admits that his Blackface failed to convince schools he interviewed with. So how could he have been accepted into medical school by lying about his race, when no one was fooled by his racial makeup?)
Herein lies the problem with this twisted “social experiment”: its utter lack of scientific rigor. When scientists conduct social experiments, they provide appropriate controls — the same resume, for example, submitted under different ethnically-coded names — so that we can account for confounding factors. Chokalingam’s story is an “experiment” without a control: it is literally impossible to draw any conclusions from his narrative other than how much of a pure racist Chokalingam is. This may be why Chokalingam has failed to do anything more meaningful with his life: he ultimately washed out of SLU after two years attending in Blackface as “Jojo Chokalingam”. Having I guess never learned the basics of the scientific method, he is now a “resume coach“.
On the question of Chokalingam’s racist asshattery, however, this “social experiment”‘s results are highly convincing. What kind of an asshole lies to medical schools to try and become a doctor? What kind of a racist thinks that donning Blackface — Chokalingam says he shaved his head and trimmed his eyelashes to pretend he was Black; I guess the shoe polish was still in the mail — is acceptable behaviour? What kind of desperate social hanger-on name-drops his famous sister at any given opportunity, and revels in his status as an AAPI wedge minority? Who yearns for social acceptance so much that he’s willing to play the token “model minority” minstrel for the Conservative Right?
Clearly, the only person who would do all of this is someone who’s entire life has only been relevant as a distant orbiter of his much more interesting sister, Mindy Kaling. Vijay Chokalingam’s tall tale of Blackface — if not an utter fabrication — is merely the latest effort to distinguish himself as anyone more than “Mindy Kaling’s disappointing brother who really, really, really wants to be cool”.
Unfortunately, that shit ain’t ever gonna happen. Vijay Chokalingam, sit down before you hurt yourself, and someone page Mindy Kaling and tell her to come and collect her things.
Update: This post has been edited after I received some feedback from Snoopy.
Update (4/5/2015): In an interview with the New York Post, Vijay Chokalingam says that his sister does not approve of the social experiment, and is feuding with him over his latest disclosures.
“I love my sister to death,” Chokal-Ingam, 38, told The Post in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he and his comedienne sibling both live. But they’re fighting over his revelation. “She says this will bring shame on the family.”