Actress/comedienne Mindy Kaling’s “almost black” older brother made national headlines and prompted much Twitter outrage last April with the controversial revelation that he gained acceptance to medical school back in the day under false pretenses by self-identifying as African American in the application process.
Formerly in the ensemble cast of The Office, Mindy Kaling is the popular creator and star of The Mindy Project, which now airs on Hulu after three years on Fox.
With an official release date of September 13, 2016, the TV star’s brother, Vijay Chokal-Ingam (a.k.a. Vijay Ingam), has published an irreverent and very un-PC memoir about gaming the affirmative action system called Almost Black: The True Story of How I Got into Medical School by Pretending to Be Black.
Upon reading Vijay’s book proposal about his own project, Mindy Kaling allegedly responded, according to her brother, that “this book will bring shame on the family.”
Vijay apparently decided to move forward with the tome because of the important societal implications of affirmative action and his experiences in navigating through it. Another motivator is that UCLA (his second alma mater) is considering the reinstatement of affirmative action.
An economics major at the University of Chicago at the time, Vijay Chokal-Ingam freely describes himself in the book as a preppy, hard-partying frat boy who was “majoring in Budweiser” in his first two years there.
Eventually, he realized that his so-so grades and MCAT scores made a career in medicine — his lifelong dream — unlikely. He also was well aware that two of his pals who figure prominently in the book, students with top grades and also of Indian heritage, were rejected for medical school. Carefully studying admissions data, Vijay Ingam came to the conclusion that the highly competitive and selective medical school admissions process was allegedly favoring less academically qualified minority applicants at the expense of Asian and white students.
From there, he came up with a “devious and crazy” box-checking scheme to pose as an African American in med school application papers even though he writes that “I am about as African American as Gandhi.”
To further his “racial fraud,” Ingam shaved his head and trimmed his eyelashes — with the assist from his then-girlfriend — and began going by his real middle name Jojo (after Celtics legend Jojo White) and joined the Organization of Black Students at the University of Chicago.
After his temporary transition, Ingam disturbingly describes in the book how he was racially profiled by a Chicago cop for “driving while black” and was roughed up by a suspicious security guard at his favorite local supermarket.
Why medicine? In addition to his experiences working at a hospital, Ingam’s late mother, a highly respected and devoted OB/GYN, inspired the author to pursue medical school in the same way that she apparently inspired Mindy Kaling to create The Mindy Project in which she portrays a physician.
As his alter ego Jojo, Vijay Ingam says he never concealed during the application process that he grew up in a wealthy family in an upscale Boston-area enclave, however.
After signing up with the Medical Minority Applicant Registry of the American Association of Medical Colleges, recruitment letters followed. He applied to 22 medical schools, had 11 somewhat stressful/cringe-worthy interviews (in part given what he was trying to conceal), got wait-listed on five, and was ultimately admitted to the St. Louis University School of Medicine.
Perhaps it could be said that after partying like it was 1999, Vijay Chokal-Ingam submitted his medical school application materials in his effort to begin his studies in 1999.
“My application had been exceptional for only two reasons: my purported race and my sterling, if not slightly pompous, interview performances,” he claims in the book.
As a form of double irony perhaps, Ingam eventually washed out of medical school after determining that particular career path wasn’t for him. He went on to get an MBA at UCLA, as alluded to above, and subsequently launched a business as a professional college admissions counselor and resume writer.
“It’s entirely possible that I would have graduated from SLU Med if I had the academic support network provided by Student National Medical Association, the black student organization. Still, I didn’t want to be found out for not being black, so I dropped out of SNMA,” he admitted in another twist to the misadventure.
Along with lots sarcasm, snark, and slacker bro banter, the NSFW memoir, which is peppered with pop culture references, nonetheless seems to present Vijay Ingam as a conflicted and self-deprecating everyman.
For example, he writes in the new book that “affirmative action serves a noble purpose. How do we give people a chance who have been shortchanged for centuries by society, while still treating everyone else fairly? The vicious conundrum of affirmative action is that it combats racial discrimination…with racial discrimination.”
Although Ingam is a vocal foe of race-based affirmative action on Twitter, his book, in general, encourages readers to draw their own conclusions about it and provides several social media channels for them to express their thoughts and opinions.
Vijay Chokal-Ingam granted the following exclusive interview to the Inquisitr on the eve of the book’s official release date.
Inquisitr: In the previous Inquisitr interview, you mentioned that you were seeking a Martin Luther King Day 2016 release for the book. Did you encounter roadblocks?
VCI: The book was self-published. As you probably have guessed, the publishing industry is so politically correct that they would decline controversial books like mine no matter how great the stories. I had originally planned on releasing the book early this year, but then I figured that the topic of my book would tie in better with the imminent election, which will have a direct impact on the future of affirmative action and the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the highly-debated Fisher v. University of Texas decision. The election of 2016 will be a national referendum on affirmative action. Control of the Supreme Court and the future of affirmative action will be determined by who controls Congress and the presidency when the dust settles. I came out with this book now because I think that the public has a right to know about affirmative action before they vote in this upcoming election.
Inquisitr: How did you coordinate the writing process with your co-author, Matthew Scott Hansen?
VCI: The writing process took six months after Matt and I took time away from our other projects to complete it. I compiled detailed notes based on my memories and the admissions documents I had kept. Matt and I went back and forth writing and revising chapters based on the book proposal we started with… For this book, we wrote in a fun and conversational style. The story is told as if you were with a colorful and irreverent friend who is relating a funny scam he pulled off. Best of all, the writing process helped reveal to me many things about my experience that truly took me years to come to terms with and appreciate.
Inquisitr: Along those lines, most of us can’t remember what we had for breakfast. How were you able to reconstruct the conversations with family, friends, acquaintances, affirmative action gatekeepers, racially profiling cops, and so forth in such vivid detail from nearly 20 years ago?
VCI: My memory is not any better or worse than anyone else. However, there are things you NEVER forget such as posing as black to get into med school. This is something that will be carved in mind for the rest of my life. Believe it or not, I took pains to collect and archive all of my notes, bills, photos, admissions correspondence, and any single trace of evidence from back then so that one day they would be put to good use, like this book for instance. As you have read, photocopies of all the official letters from the schools were included in the book.
Inquisitr: One of the takeaways from your book is that things could get awkward around the Thanksgiving Day table this year. In your memoir, you claim that your sister Mindy Kaling was aware of your plan to manipulate the affirmative action system all along and specifically asked you not to apply to Dartmouth (where she was a well-known student on campus). In April 2015, Mindy Kaling’s publicist contended that the actress was unaware of the plan. You also indicate that, unfortunately, Mindy and yourself are no longer on speaking terms in part because she allegedly tried to suppress publicity about the book.
VCI: Mindy and her publicist were less than candid with the media. She was not only aware of my whole med school scheme but actually helped me [by] talking me out of applying to two med schools, Dartmouth and Harvard, where she had personal connections… Growing up, I always supported Mindy’s dream of becoming a comedian even when my parents were skeptical about it. I even helped her with publicity for her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? So when I approached her with my book Almost Black and asked for her support, I was really furious with her response — our heated conversation was documented in the book… When I tried to reflect on why she did what she did, I actually think it’s because of her political view on affirmative action. Mindy has told the New York Times that she benefited from NBC’s diversity programs, aka affirmative action.
Inquisitr: Stepping back, does it seem ironic that both Mindy and yourself wound up playing “roles” (i.e., the actor and the applicant) that aren’t necessarily reflective of the real person, or is that an overstatement?
VCI: Naturally, whenever you play a role, you pretend to be someone you’re not. The Jojo character I play in Almost Black is an African-American professional who aspires to be a physician. I was actually an Indian-American frat boy. [Unlike her TV persona], my sister Mindy is a conservative Indian woman who is very intelligent and calculating. It’s important to realize that the character you play is a figment of your imagination and not you… Playing Jojo, I felt the stakes were higher since I was pretending to be African American, and not a fictitious screen character. The stakes were higher in that I never forgot to respect Jojo and respect that as Jojo, I was representing black culture and black men.
Inquisitr: Two female friends who were in on your scheme joked in the book about which actress they wanted to portray them. With that in mind, do you have any aspirations to turn the tell-all into a movie or even a sitcom?
VCI: Of course, I would love to see Almost Black made into a movie. Kimberly Peirce, a University of Chicago grad like myself, wrote and directed the Oscar-winning film Boy’s Don’t Cry. Shortly after the events in Almost Black, I saw the movie Boy’s Don’t Cry at the insistence of my feminist girlfriend. It was the first time that I realized there was a movie potential for my story. Maybe that’s why I subconsciously kept all of my admissions records, even from schools that rejected me, so I would be able to reconstruct the whole story.
Still, I would want to movie to be entertaining, dramatic, and educational, not a political hit job against affirmative action. I am not a screenwriter or director like my sister Mindy, so I would want someone with real talent to take on the project. There was a time when I hoped that my sister would be the writer and director for the movie. There was a time when I dreamed that my sister would win her first Oscar for playing my mother in the movie… Considering the current state of affairs with my sister, I guess that dream will never come to pass.
Inquisitr: On the subject of family, your love and admiration for your mother really come through powerfully in the book. Do you think medicine would be far better served if doctors patterned themselves after her in interacting with patients?
VCI: My mother was an OB/GYN who always treated her patients like friends and family members. I described her as a “professional gossip that gives pap smears.” She loved chatting up with her patients and gossiping with them about their lives. She really is the ultimate inspiration for my sister’s show The Mindy Project. Mom had a style of practicing medicine that is slowly dying out in the age of managed care. These days, many women only meet their obstetrician for the first time on the day of delivery.
Inquisitr: Does graduation from a prestigious medical school rather than, say, a lower-tier institution guarantee that the applicant will wind up being a good doctor?
VCI: As an admission’s consultant, I am well aware of the flaws in the medical application process. In fact, I exploit them for my clients every day. Applicants who market themselves more effectively in the application process through good interview skills, outstanding essays, and letters of recommendation get into medical school while other equally qualified applicants get rejected. I don’t necessarily think that going to a higher-ranked medical school makes you into a better physician. The only real way to see how good of a physician someone will be is to put him or her in a clinical setting.
Inquisitr: Setting aside whether readers will agree with the end game, your impressive interview skills during the medical school admissions process come through loud and clear in the book. That being said, the book is chock full of earthy language and R-rated anecdotes. Do you think this could give some potential clients for your admissions consulting business any second thoughts about hiring you?
VCI: The book is written from the perspective of a fun-loving 21-year-old college fraternity brother. Like I said, it is written like you were having a conversation with a colorful friend who pulled off a hilarious scam. Even then, I never acted in an inappropriate way in an educational or professional setting such a classroom or medical school interview. Yes, we had some crazy parties and did some crazy things. Still, I recognized the importance of maintaining separation between my personal life and my professional and educational life. At SOSCareerService.com, I model appropriate professional behavior for my clients. I tell all of my clients not to discuss their personal life in admissions interviews, job interviews, resumes, or applications for college or graduate school. Instead, they should discuss how their education background, work experience, and leadership activities have prepared them to succeed in their chosen field.
Inquisitr: Do you have any concluding thoughts for Inquisitr readers in connection with Almost Black: The True Story of How I Got into Medical School by Pretending to Be Black?
VCI: Many people tend to think that there are two types of books–either those that are informative but boring or that are entertaining but not informative. I think that my book is able to achieve both by telling a funny and thrilling story while also educating readers about important social issues. Matt and I think we did a pretty good job at maintaining that right balance. I hope my book will give readers quite a few great laughs while also encouraging them to think deeply about affirmative action’s place in our society today…I think that affirmative action can reformed and fixed. I strongly advocate affirmative action based on socioeconomic status, but not based on race.
[Image via Shutterstock]