Left: Mindy Kaling. Right: Vijay Chokal-Ingam

Left: Mindy Kaling. Right: Her brother, Vijay Chokal-Ingam.

Mindy Kaling is not just one of the most successful South Asians in show business at the moment, she’s also one of its most famous women. She’s the first woman of Indian descent to appear on the cover of an American magazine — Elle’s February 2014 issue — and she’s the first Indian-American to helm her own show in which she is unapologetically Indian and American. She’s been nominated for six Emmys for her work on The Office, and The Mindy Project has garnered her dozens more nominations.

She’s also a style icon for dark women with glorious curves, even though she’s been fat-shamed publicly by designers who claimed their clothes weren’t meant for a body type like hers. She smiles in the faces of haters and secures new television deals while boasting a thriving career as an author to boot. As powerful and successful as Kaling is, even she isn’t immune to being slut-shamed — by her own family and in public no less.

Slut-shaming is not new in Asian immigrant communities. Conservatism abounds, and the sometimes-insulated nature of many Asian communities, especially in the older generations, pushes back and hard against younger members getting too assimilated by mainstream American culture. The policing of women’s sexuality is a cornerstone of this conservativism, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an Asian-American woman who hasn’t been slut-shamed by a family member or many of them, and more than once. The difference is that most of these chastisements take place in the privacy of the home, not in the media.

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Kaling’s brother, Vijay Chokal-Ingam, is in the news for self-publishing a memoir about how he pretended to be black to get into med school. He had hoped to expose how affirmative action discriminates against whites and Asian Americans. It gets worse. On his website AlmostBlack.com, Chokal-Ingam writes:

“Not everything went as planned. During a med school interview, an African American doctor angrily confronted me for not being black. Cops harassed me. Store clerks accused me of shoplifting. Women were either scared of me or found my bald black dude look sexually mesmerizing. What started as a scam to get into med school turned into a twisted social experiment, teaching me lessons I would never have learned in the classroom.”

Aside from the fact that these racially charged stereotypes against African Americans are offensive, Chokal-Ingam’s social experiment was missing one key component: He never applied to med school as an Indian-American, so he has no basis for comparison for any of the claims he makes.

While Chokal-Ingam’s absurd “results” have been refuted by many of the universities to which he applied, and many admissions offices of schools in question have confirmed that his application met their standards regardless of his ethnicity, he continues to asserts their validity. This is a perfect example of how certain segments of the Indian-American community will attempt to align themselves with conservative whites, as I discussed recently in my analysis of the Indian-Americans for Trump 2016 movement. And being part of the liberal Asian American community, Kaling told her brother that she would not help him promote his book, and that publishing its racially charged non-findings “would bring shame on our family.” Rightfully so.

In response, Chokal-Ingam told Page Six: “You play a slut on national TV, and you think this [book] will bring shame on the family?”

Because there’s nothing that will derail a conversation faster or deflect an issue quicker in the Asian community than slut-shaming a woman. For many of us Asian women, slut-shaming is the first kind of social control we experience in our lives, and it definitely has an impact on how — or if we’re able to — develop healthy sexual lives.

Related: Priyanka Yoshikawa — the New Miss Japan — and her Mixed-Race Heritage are Making Waves

NBC Asian America recently published an interview-based study about how a lack of sex education and stereotypes causes problems for women later in life in the Asian community. Let’s also not forget that the woman Chokal-Ingam is shaming is actually a fictional character, but Kaling is being held responsible and personally shamed by default.

While Chokal-Ingam might be patting himself on the back on how he thinks he exposed the supposedly corrupt system of affirmative action by breaking the law and committing fraud, smashing that model-minority stereotype the South Asian community prides itself on, his life experience in the Asian community has taught him that by bringing his sister’s sexuality into the mix he can deflect attention away from his own criminal and racist acts. Because sadly, that is how it often works.

I can just hear Mindy’s “uncles and aunties” clucking their tongues and gossiping: “Oh Vijay might have written a terrible book, but it’s good he said something about That Girl.” “Oh yes, someone should have said something about Her sooner.” Because while aligning themselves with racist notions isn’t necessarily shame-worthy, outing a woman as a slut will actually and inevitably reflect badly on the family in question. Talk about patriarchal entrenchment. And well done, Vijay. You pulled another fast one, didn’t you?

The sad thing is that with these reprehensible comments and a dreadful book, Chokal-Ingam will probably continue to be looked upon favorably by many people in his circle, while his sister will likely get more open hostility from the same people, simply because her brother said what they’d all been thinking this whole time.

Kaling has succeeded in building a name and a brand for herself in an industry that frowns upon women with dark skin and curvy bodies, making it virtually impossible for people like us to thrive. But she’s doing it, with style and grace. Mindy is a hero and an inspiration for all the other brown chicks out there who want to be actresses and performers and writers one day. She showed us that it’s possible for a South Asian face to grace the cover of a fashion magazine, to helm her own projects and, more important, to make her own life choices. She even managed to be scandal-free in her personal relationships and private life until her brother went and dragged her through the mud for his own pathetic 15 minutes of fame.

Because ultimately, no matter how much slut-shaming Mindy Kaling endures and whatever nasty things her family want to say and/or think about her, in the public eye Kaling is the one we’ll be watching and showering with accolades for whatever next awesome project she comes up with. Not just because we’re standing in solidarity with our Asian-American sister, but more important, because she is so damn talented and hysterically funny, and we love her to bits.

You do you, Mindy. We’ve got your back.

Sezin Koehler is the author of Crime Rave (2015), a supernatural noir featuring feminist zombies, and American Monsters (2011), a postmodern feminist horror novel about the 1990s SoCal rave scene. An adult Third Culture Kid, Sezín has lived in 13 countries and 18 cities around the world, and now calls Lighthouse Point, Florida home. You can find her Tweeting about politics, Facebooking about art and culture, and Instagramming her growing collection of art and tattoos.

 

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