I was apprehensive before even watching this episode. It’s titled “Mindy Lahiri is a Racist”, and if that doesn’t strike fear into your heart, then you are a very different person than I am. Let’s be honest; this show hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to race-relations. From the awkward jokes about black people (that have succeeded in turning most of my black friends off this show) to the terrible characterization of Tamara, the black nurse. Mindy Kaling hasn’t shown much of a racial consciousness herself — she’s been uncomfortable with her status as one of the only women of color to have her own show on television, and doesn’t want the “trailblazer” label that’s often applied to her. Kaling wants to be treated as if she’s just another person, without the irritating labels of “woman” and “minority” that others insist on attaching to her.
Most notably, Mindy has angrily brushed off criticism that her show fails at racial representation, and that it’s problematic that Mindy only dates white guys. Would anyone hold a white lead to such high multicultural standards, she asks? (If I could, I’d tell her yes, we certainly would criticize a white showrunner who was responsible for a lack of diversity on their show. Just look at how hard Lena Dunham gets it.)
So for all these reasons and more, I was concerned that this show was about to attempt a race-based episode in an attempt to be “funny” about racism — which almost never works, in my opinion. The end result almost never subverts the existing racist norms, it simply reinforces them. The characters will do something unintentionally racist, and we the audience will be asked to laugh at it. It’s almost always uncomfortable, if you don’t quite trust the motivations of the show runners.
Did this episode succeed where others have failed? Yes and no. Schulman & Associates comes under fire for being racist, after a white power mommy blogger gives the practice a positive review on their website. (“It’s often a hardship for an Aryan woman to find appropriate medical care in the island of Jewhatten,” but “Dr. Castellano knows that the first hands that touch your precious baby should be ivory white.”) They come under further scrutiny when the doctors refuse the Deslauriers’ request to hang up a poster for a black politician in their practice. The Deslauriers, somewhat improbably, set up an anti-racism rally below their building, in order to name and shame the practice.
Their true motivation is getting Shulman & Associates’ clients to come and be their customers, and Danny and Mindy know this, but can’t say it without looking foolish. So the partners work to prove how not racist they are. They hire an Olivia Pope-esque P.R. consultant, and she recommends that they “change the conversation”, to take the world’s focus off the fact that Danny Castellano has somehow become the posterchild for whitemommy.com.
Mindy insists that because she’s Indian, she can’t be racist. Danny laughs at this, noting that she’s only ever dated white guys. (He, on the other hand, has dated almost every race of girl. Take that, Mindy.) Mindy objects, stating that she made it to second base with her friend, Korean Justin. (“His hands were so small, it made my boobs feel enormous!”)
Danny makes things worse by getting up at the rally and talking about how many black friends he has, thinking that will prove how non-racist he is. Mindy compounds the damage by telling the crowd that Danny has slept with every race, thinking that will prove how tolerant they are. Tamara makes things explode when she asserts how racist Mindy is to her, because she’s angry that Mindy is condescending to her.
Mindy finally cools things down when she announces that Shulman & Associates will send a mobile health unit to underprivileged parts of New York, where many minorities live. Even Mr. Whitman, the black politician that the Deslauriers lured to the rally, agreed to back down, after that announcement. “These people are barely racist!” he tells the Deslauriers, irritated that they’ve wasted his time. Things go back to normal, and everyone goes back to work.
Things I liked about this episode:
1. I enjoyed the bit of slapstick humor at the beginning of the episode, when Morgan gets his junk bitten by a big dog, and Tamara misses the dog and instead tranquilizes Morgan, leading to this image:
Not gonna lie, that made me laugh out loud.
2. I loved Danny’s grandma-esque reading glasses. Adorbs.
3. I laughed out loud when Peter realized that the politician he’s been telling everyone he went to Dartmouth with is actually a different guy. Peter did something unconsciously racist — thinking all black people look alike — and it was funny, because the joke was on Peter, not the black guy. That’s how you do race-related humor, folks.
Things I didn’t like about this episode:
You know what? I can’t think of anything glaringly obvious to point out. Everything was pretty much above board.
Jaya Sundaresh lives in Hartford, Connecticut. She grew up in various parts of the Northeast before deciding to study political science at McGill University. Follow her on Twitter at @anedumacation and read her thoughts on her personal blog.