We Just Want The Chance To Be As Vapid As Everyone Else: Why We Need ‘The Mindy Project'Ramou Sarr

I was rooting for The Mindy Project since I read Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and thought, “Yes! A not thin, not white woman wrote a comedic memoir that I can relate to!” The thought of Kaling’s incredibly honest, sometimes insecure, sometimes supremely confident voice translating on television was exciting. But I worried that I was getting my hopes up, only to be depressingly disappointed later.

I admit to breathing a sigh of relief after watching the pilot. There may have been a fist pump. It’s good. And I no longer needed to worry about feeling forced to support something that was less than great only because I believed in the essence behind it. (I’m looking at you, Red Tails.) Following the pilot, there was collective black and brown girl cheer at the fact that Kaling had managed to create a comedy reflecting the voice of a woman of color and do it really well. But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) some wondered why it had to be another story about a woman on the hunt for a man.

Look. I get it. We’re feminists. We can soar in male-dominated fields like science and engineering. We can be business owners and spearhead companies. We can pay our own rent, walk into a car dealership by ourselves and purchase a car, and dominate in Congress. We don’t need no man! Aren’t we tired of the otherwise successful female lead focusing so much of her attention on the lack of a man in her life?

The thing is – white ladies have had so many opportunities to play this role. There is no shortage of the show in which a pretty white woman navigates the twists and turns of falling in love, falling out of love, having lots of sex, wondering why she’s not having sex, wondering if what she’s feeling is really love, and what does this text message mean? And then she gets to talk all about it with her girlfriends over brunch. As my lovely Black Girls Talking co-host Aurelia said, “We just want the chance to be as vapid as everyone else.” We had Living Single. And that went off the air in 1998. I know some of you want to yell at me for failing to include Girlfriends here. Girlfriends had an eight-year run and was a fine show, but it was no Living Single and it didn’t have Queen Latifah in it. Also, let’s address the fact that there were two comedies in a 10-year period that fit the life, love and relationships television genre that featured a woman of color in a starring role.

Women of color have been living under drought conditions when it comes to a woman who looks like us telling our own stories. I know that for some of you, this may not seem like a big deal and you wonder why one’s ethnicity matters in this context. It’s significant because television is such an overwhelmingly incredible part of our culture. So many of us love television! For women of color, not seeing us represented in this medium creates a sense of “otherness” among us. We are being told that our stories and our voices are not important and not welcome. Being absent on the screen says that we do not belong alongside our white counterparts. And if we don’t belong in this very prevalent cultural context of television, then where do we belong?

Part of what makes The Mindy Project so special is its ability to straddle the line between making race a factor and making it a non-issue. It’s not a show about a brown woman, but a show about a woman who is also brown. She’s a multi-faceted, well-developed character with depth and not just a stereotype of her race. Kaling’s Mindy Lahiri is not burdened by her “otherness.” It’s not a story about the struggle of this poor brown woman, as the storylines of so many minority characters so often tend to be.

At the same time, Kaling doesn’t avoid racial comedy. In one of the first scenes we see Lahiri drunkenly yell “racist!” at a driver while riding dirty on a bicycle in a boss lady sequined dress. It’s a moment that everyone can laugh at, but one that black and brown girls may give the familiar nod to. Yup. I’ve definitely pulled that one out prematurely in the 1st quarter after throwing more than enough mixed drinks in a red cup too quickly down my throat. And after Lahiri is punched in the nose by the seemingly unstable Nurse Beverly, she says, “Unfortunately, we live in a society that puts a premium on white women with perfect noses. I’m 0 for 2.” It’s there – the acknowledgment that this is not typically the type of woman who has for so long set the standard of beauty and been deemed worthy of being a network’s leading lady. This one is different.

With The Mindy Project has come a sense of hope and validation. It’s the validation that our stories are important too – that we matter, that perhaps we do belong here. And the hope that networks understand how important this is – that we’re not opposed to seeing a woman who is neither thin nor white, and who refuses to be apologetic about either of them. Kaling has created an inclusive space in which everyone is welcome and where black and brown women can take both pride and comfort in knowing that we have a space at all. I don’t know about you, but I certainly needed it.

Image via Slant Magazine

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  1. I like the show but the only thing that bothers me about it is that Mindy is the only person of colour in a her very white world. All of her love interests are white, her co-workers, and her best friends are white. She does not engage with or is friends with any other women of colour or men for that matter and that does bug me. It is like those films where the white lead has the one token black, or Asian best friend in their life and they know no one else of colour. Except Mindy is the one token person of colour but this time its all about her.
    Like I said I like the show but I am bothered by Mindy Kaling’s leaving other women and men and colour out of her world.

    • You’re right, Rhonda, and it’s a concern that I have as well. And we can totally still support Mindy Kaling and the show while continuing to raise issues with it too. A lot of it has to do with the fact that Kaling is simply hiring her friends, and a lot of them happen to be white, so the show is somewhat of a reflection of her own social network. This is something I can particularly relate to – Surprise! I can’t stop talking about race, but most of my friends are white! I’ve used this argument for Lena Dunham as well, how she is really just writing what she knows, but the counter to this is that it’s not a documentary or biography, and there have got to be some more PoC actors and/or writers who are talented and available. That said, I completely stan for Mindy and am less worried about the lack of PoC on her show – since she’s running the damn thing – than I am with some others. I really hope I’m making some sense here.

      • Yes you are making sense and no you are not. Because Mindy is “running the damn thing” I think that she should be a tad more aware, and it still is a letdown.
        I have white friend, black friends, friends of all colours and nationalities.
        The show takes place in New York which has to be one of the most racially diverse cities.
        Egads she does not have any Indian friends, and no mention of family members estranged or otherwise.
        People have mentioned the lack of diversity on the HBO show Girls, another New York show. I do not watch that as I so cannot relate to any of the characters. Why are you giving Mindy Kaling a pass because she is running the show? Tina Fey runs hers and she has far more diversity on her show.
        I want Mindy Kaling to do well but I really am losing interest.

  2. Yes yes YES! I love Mindy too and I really hope they don’t take the show off air, we need more of this!

  3. I had a different reaction to the show. I loved Mindy on the office, bought her book, obsessed over her twitter, and was so excited for the pilot.

    And I hated it. Her romantic comedy riff is just not that interesting to me, although I agree that WOC deserve the chance to be vapid. I just didn’t find it very funny. And some aspects were… weird? The first episode included a joke about finding more white clients. The two most notable times her race is mentioned it’s part of a ‘race card’ joke – the “racist!” line in the pilot and more recently “if I were a white man I wouldn’t be arrested ok yeah I totally would.” She is the lone person of color in a pretty sizable array of stars and guest stars, and there is no mention of her family.

    I would be side-eyeing this show so hard if it weren’t helmed by a woman of color or Mindy Kaling in particular. It’s definitely gotten better with each episode, so I’m clinging on to that.

  4. Another home run for Ramou Sarr. GET IT, LADY.

  5. I LOVE The Mindy Project! Mindy’ portrayal of the modern woman who can have it all is refreshing, and it’s true, she gives a voice to colored women, who are usually cast as extras, sidekicks, or portrayed as reliant on others. Mindy is hilarious, I love her quips, her fast-talking, her sassiness, her confidence, and the fact that she is intelligent and at a great place in her life. Great show! :)

  6. Great article! Congrats! It was about time that media and shobiz execs ackknowledged the fact that this country has one of the most diverse population in the world -in terms of ethnicities- and decided to give Mindy a prime time opportunity. Love the show! :) XOXO

    http://cafesocietyxxi.blogspot.com/

  7. YES. Also, it’s not like the whole looking for a man thing can’t be a story line. Love and sex and all that is a pretty intense driving force. I’d love to see more LGBT storylines along those lines on network TV, but just having a brown lady is apparently a big deal, but we all know how TV goes.

  8. THIS. this. this. THIS. all of this.

  9. I have to say I never put a moment of thought into someone’s race. Whether it be on TV, in a movie or in real life. I think when we think about race, we go backwards. Thoughts?

    • I agree with you! But unfortunately, stereotypes have always played a significan role in media and showbiz. I think that society has move much faster and wiser and it’s great that TV is catching up. That’s my humble thought! :) xoxo

      http://cafesocietyxxi.blogspot.com/

    • Ugh. God. Okay, I’m in my race space again. You, as a white woman (I’m assuming that you’re a white woman, correct me if I’m wrong), have the privilege of not thinking about someone’s race. I do not. I am very aware of my race all the time. By saying you don’t see my race you are saying that you don’t want to see me as I am and the way that I want to be seen. I get it, race conversations are uncomfortable. But not talking about them doesn’t make them go away. It wasn’t silence that contributed to any civil rights movement, and it’s not silence that’s going to get more PoC women on television and in film.

    • I hear this a lot, and my question is: When has not talking about something ever made it go away?

  10. I love this post SO HARD. So hard. I had this discussion the other day because of all of the heat the much-anticipated Tarantino movie “Django Unchained” is already taking.

    I cannot recall a movie where a black woman has ever been a damsel in distress–some woman worthy of being saved. I’m not saying that’s admirable, I’m just saying that from an early age, I knew no one was coming to save me. I had to be strong, and when I wasn’t strong enough, no one was coming to pick up the pieces. So sorry to drag down the mood, but I think our point is the same. So what if the personality being portrayed isn’t the best way to “positively represent a culture.” We deserve those vapid moments. Those shallow feelings. To relate to a real person and not some stereotype whether it’s the “Indian geek spelling bee kid” or the “So strong that she’s overbearingly strong black woman.” We are all multi-faceted, and I’m glad Mindy exists to broaden everyone’s horizons (she’s also a total fox and hilarious–so that doesn’t hurt).

    • This is not dragging the mood down at all! The idea that black and Latina women are not women who are vulnerable or need saving is rooted in stereotypes of the strong/loud/aggressive black or brown women. And it is SO frustrating. (I’m still mad about the whole Drive/Carey Mulligan thing.) It’s not that we necessarily want to always play this role, we just want the option! We want the same privileges that white women have to not constantly play stereotypes of our race.

  11. Ramou, you get me! As a communication major, so many of my professors use current examples of our media to explain certain rhetorical strategies or non-verbal cues; but so many examples I see in the class (and out of the class, as you have mentioned above) are heavily filled with white or black women. There is never a representation of brown which causes me to feel like I’m the “other”, when I don’t necessarily want to be. It’s the internal struggle between wanting to make a difference based on your race (and biological sex) and not wanting it to get noticed because of your race. I am so passionate about the success of the Mindy Project, and I am so glad you are too!

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