As is true of every awards season, with the Oscars there must always come some high and mighty and incredibly misguided social commentary that really pisses me off.
Mindy Kaling was on the red carpet on Oscar night and was asked “What type of man she prefers.” She tried to redirect the question, but the interviewer got more pointed and asked her “What color man she prefers,” because apparently that’s an okay thing to do now. People are saying that the question was open to be asked because Kaling said just prior in response to the question:
Reporter: What do you think everyone here is thinking about you?
Mindy: They are probably thinking, “There goes that girl who kisses all those white guys on her TV show!”
Which, fine, yes, she brought it up. I still think the follow-up question was unnecessarily antagonistic, but it wouldn’t be the first time somebody began going down the rabbit hole themselves — it’s then the interviewer’s responsibility to be smart enough not to follow suit.
My issue came more from the comments section (another thing I should stop reading in general, but I’m hard to learn a lesson), where the following discussion took place. A commenter said she hates this question because her half-Chinese cousins always get ragged on for dating only white guys because they are biracial, while she gets no harassment at all for dating only white guys because she is white and then it seems to be okay with everyone. “People are attracted to who they are attracted to,” she wrote. A valid point, I thought.
Until I read the absolute tripe a commenter posted in response below her.
This second person made the argument that, no, the people you are attracted to are a result of sociocultural indoctrination. Which, fine, yes, probably. But then this person had the gall to state that if you are one race that dates primarily people of another single race, you have an obligation to explain to anyone who asks you why you do that.
No. This is an infuriatingly narrow-minded and, in my unfortunate experience, commonly-held belief.
If I date mostly white men and I am not white, that does not give you the right to question and antagonize me about why I don’t typically date men of other races, or especially of my own race. Are there sociocultural reasons why I am attracted primarily to white men? Probably. Do I owe you an explanation for those reasons? Absolutely not.
The fact of the matter is that if I were a white woman who mostly displayed an attraction toward white men, you wouldn’t think to ask me why. As an Indian woman, if I displayed an attraction toward Indian men, you likely wouldn’t ask me why. Why not, though? Because that’s the natural order of things?
For the record, I have been attracted to men both of my own race and other races. I never dated these men because as far as I can tell, they weren’t interested in me. In reality, I probably date mostly white men because I grew up in an area of the United States with a lower immigrant population, so I grew up surrounded by mostly white people. The only Indian people I was exposed to regularly were family members, and other races I was exposed to less so. That might have something to do with it.
This may all be true. But like hell do I owe anyone an explanation for it.
People are still very uncomfortable with interracial dating, I think. The worst part is that it comes from both sides. A large majority of my Indian peers would be just as quick (if not more so) to pass judgment on me for dating white men — and that’s if they’re even willing to consider me “really Indian,” but that’s a story for another day.
The point is, it is my right to date people of every race and ethnicity. It is not an obligation.
The dialogue surrounding the casting choices on Kaling’s show makes me very uncomfortable for similar reasons. Recently, a lot of commentary has emerged accusing Kaling’s show of lacking diversity in casting. This is a kind of commentary that has risen lately for television and film (and should arise more often, to be honest). I think it is a fair criticism of most of the television out there today. What makes me uncomfortable is that the majority of this commentary in regards to The Mindy Project specifically is directed toward the casting of the guest stars who play her various paramours.
Let me make that clear: it’s not that people care that there are too many white people on a show being run by and starring an Indian woman. People care that an Indian female lead is shown to be dating too many white people. The two sides I’ve seen to this argument are that it’s “not realistic” and/or that Kaling has some kind of obligation to cast herself opposite men of color. The first argument is some racist bullshit. The second is problematic for a different reason.
Let me make something else clear: Just because Mindy Kaling happens to be a brown woman and happens to be running a show, that does not make her your woman-of-color representative. That line of questioning was never afforded to showrunner Darren Star for the all-white lineup of boyfriends that Carrie went through on “Sex and the City”, so why does Kaling have to endure it?
Mindy Kaling is, in many ways, a pioneer in this industry to women of color and Indian women in particular. That’s great. I find her success to be inspirational, too, and I hope that her recognition will open doors for other Indian women in the industry in the future. But like I don’t owe you an explanation for who I date, she doesn’t owe you or anyone else the position of being a paladin of her ethnicity. Demanding her (or any successful POC) to live that role is denying them the same equality that you so vocally claim to be advocating for.
People of color in the spotlight should have the right to hold that mantle — not an obligation.