Racism and Postfeminism in The Mindy Project

One of the most interesting aspects of The Mindy Project in terms of postfeminism was the treatment of race and intersectional identities. Tasker and Negra highlight the commodification of certain racial identities into an overly simplified and static multiculturalism as an aspect of postfeminism. In this way, “difference is commodified rather than politicized within mainstream culture; such cultural processes are predicated on an implicit chronology that firmly ‘posts’ activisms centered on the consequences of racial inequities” (Tasker & Negra 9).

There are many interesting tensions and consistencies with this aspect of postfeminism within The Mindy Project. Upon first glance, the show seems to depart from the problem of race. The Mindy Project is the first major network sitcom that stars a South Asian, let alone a female one. The show then creates visibility for South Asians generally, but specifically highlights the success that is possible for a woman to have. However, the show does deal with Mindy’s race in a very postfeminist way. Instead of acknowledging her identity, the show fails to ever comment on it and in this way takes a post-race stance on the issue. By not speaking to Mindy’s intersectional identity, the show supports the idea that she is the same as everyone else and that sexist or racist barriers in no way curtailed her accomplishments.

While this stance may not be independently problematic (Mindy Kaling as the director should be able to represent herself as she wishes), the show also commodifies other intersectional identities in order to play into the system of capital. The clearest example comes in the form of Mindy’s treatment of the Arab woman who comes to her for treatment. At first Mindy refuses to help her because she does not have health insurance and Mindy says she is at a point in her life where she has to do things that will move her life forward. Afterward, Mindy confronts the receptionists who admitted the woman saying, “why are you sending non-English speaking pregnant immigrants with no health insurance, with literally like burqas and stuff” to which one receptionist replies “I thought she might be rich with oil money.” The scene ends with an order from Mindy to get more white clients.

The framing of the Arab woman and Mindy’s rhetoric construct a commodified vision of difference that casts the woman as worthless because of her inability to participate in capitalism and consumption. The scene perpetuates the idea that all Arab and Muslim women are “backwards” based on their inability to participate in modern capitalist society. The woman literally does not speak in the scene and merely nods somewhat dumbly as her son translates Mindy’s ridiculous explanation for not serving her. This creates a static image of all Muslim women as mute and incompetent beings who rely on men. Additionally, the receptionist’s explanation for admitting the woman further entrenches the idea that cultural difference is only acceptable in so far as it fits within archetypes that serve capitalism (i.e. a “good Arab client” is only one that is rich through an occupation that is stereotypically assigned to them based on their race). Mindy’s call for more white clients can then be read as the rejection of cultural difference that does not promote her ability to capture capital that will allow her to consume.

However, despite Mindy Kaling’s feminist leanings outside of the show, she is still unable to escape the racial paradigms of postfeminism. One article by Jamie Peck (http://www.crushable.com/2012/09/28/entertainment/mindy-kaling-the-mindy-project-female-writers-race-734/) argues that the face that Kaling refuses to hire more female and minority writers is the reason that sexists and racist tropes are so present in her show. Instead of challenging the supremacy of white men within the comedy writer community, Kaling merely continues it questioning who could “go toe to toe with the best white, male comedy writers out there.” This is not only problematic in that it excludes women and minorities from getting jobs with the show, but it also allows the show to construct cultural difference in ways that may be more problematic than if more minority writers were hired. Kaling’s stance on the lack of diversity of her writers is also very consistent with a postfeminist model of race. Instead of acknowledging the way that talented minority and female writers have been excluded from comedy writing, Kaling merely appeals to success in a theoretically post-race and post-feminist world as the sole justification for hiring. Ultimately, Kaling may be creating more visibility for racial difference but she does so in a way that is problematic for fighting unfair stereotypes and racial exclusions.

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