I’ve got to quit reading comments sections. I know, I know, I should know better. But I can’t help it.
On a site like Jezebel — yes, back to this well — the comments are a place for people to exchange thoughtful ideas and relate their own experiences to whatever topic a post features. Maybe I’ve been too distracted with my own life changes or maybe I’m just pandering to my lone male reader (hi!) but I can’t take the conversations on Jezebel anymore. It’s a boring feminist circle jerk (what’s the girl equivalent of a circle jerk?) where everyone’s trying to out Dworkin each other.
I was reading a post about “The Mindy Project,” token heroine (and Token heroine) Mindy Kaling‘s new Fox sitcom, and my eyes soon fixed on a comment that included this phrase about the writer/producer/comedian/actress: “I get an icky vibe off her other stuff, like she’ll do/say pretty much anything to garner the approval of rich white people.”
Uh, OK. And if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass when it hopped.
I’m a self-identified Kalingite, in awe of her intellect, talent and work ethic, but even if I wasn’t, that statement would still elicit an eye roll. That sentence, though couched in nonsense safe words about how “maybe [Kaling's act is] supposed to be satire, and I’m just not picking it up,” is some white nonsense. It proves the beautiful point so much of the press around Kaling’s show illustrates: As a woman of color, you’re always playing by someone else’s rules and don’t you dare try to create your own set.
The war on Kaling seemed to come up out of nowhere, but backlashes usually spring up whenever a woman (especially one who isn’t conventionally attractive, *ahem* Lena Dunham) has a very personal project coming out and is getting a lot of publicity for it. This is “Girls” 2.0 folks. For all the things I love about Kaling, she’s not exactly a divisive figure. She may be a conservative – I’m still praying this isn’t true — but she’s not Dunham. Kaling did everything right: she went to an Ivy League school, she’s not white, she’s not stick thin, she worked behind the scenes and eventually in front of the camera at “The Office” before getting her own show at age 33. To my knowledge, she hasn’t benefitted from even the slightest trace of nepotism.
And still the feminists don’t like her. And the white men don’t like her either. The feminists don’t think she’s one of them — and yes, I realize I’m arguing against one commenter and a few like minded people who piled on, but just let me have that — because she isn’t brownshirt (or pinkshirt, rather) enough. I don’t even understand that argument. How is a curvy, hilarious South Asian woman who is obsessed with shopping and romantic comedies — we all know how much rich white guys love spending an evening watching “You’ve Got Mail” and perusing ModCloth –pandering to anyone but herself and people like her?
But Kaling also doesn’t have enough diversity on her writing staff, at least according to Noreen Malone of The New Republic. I wish Kaling had more female writers and writers of color too, I honestly do, but Malone’s tone (an unfortunate rhyme) strikes once again of a “real feminist” alpha Wolfing an uppity upstart. Just because your criticism is legitimate doesn’t mean your delivery isn’t disdainful. It took years to throw those tomatoes at “The Daily Show;” Kaling’s pilot just aired Tuesday.
If I’m wrong, and Kaling is trying to turn the world into a legion of B.J. Novaks, who worship her every word, she’s apparently doing a pretty shitty job. See, Rich Juzwiak, a white guy and Gawker writer, derisively thinks Kaling is “the human equivalent of a retweeted compliment.” (She couldn’t be retweeting that praise out of gratitude, could she?) And Alex Balk of The Awl – I have no idea his race — thinks she’s “smug.”* So the narrative is “Confident, successful woman of color pisses off men.” Or as I call it, “Abraham Lincoln, still dead.”
OK, but none of this is the real point. The real point is that if you’re a woman of color and you give yourself credit, you’re an asshole. Let us look at Gawker writer Cord Jefferson‘s takedown of Nicki Minaj and her substantive rant about double-standards to remind ourselves of this apparently universal truth.
I’m reminded of this fact every day. When I’m in a room full of white people and am told to list 10 successes I’ve achieved and I manage to get to 12, which I’m honest about when asked, I get to hear the air leave the room and the chill set in. How could a 24 year old black woman be proud of anything, let alone 12 things (unless they’re her baby daddies, amirite)?
When I figure out a brainteaser on the first try, a puzzle that a table full of those same white people couldn’t master, the assumption is that I must’ve done it before. I know that’s what people are thinking because they asked. It couldn’t just be that I’m good at brainteasers. It couldn’t be that the chubby black girl has a deeper mental toolkit or simply got this one thing right. “You must’ve done this before” is the working world equivalent of the black QB as a natural athlete and the white QB as a smart player.
Welcome to being a token in America: You have to prove to everyone that you have any kind of talent and the second you succeed, you get chastised. See, little colored girl? You can’t be good at anything unless someone tells you that you can. You aren’t allowed to determine your own worth.
Slavery in this country may have ended almost two centuries ago, but clearly we’re not done thinking white people can determine black people’s value and shout it to the masses.
And that leads me back to Kaling. When she confidently states, “I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there,” she’s being full of herself. She’s not seen as pushing herself or reaffirming that she deserves her own network sitcom, she’s not knowing her place. You’d think a demographic predisposed to hate affirmative action would love the fact that Kaling, a woman of color (AKA Affirmative Action kryptonite), wants to be judged and ranks herself on an even playing field (whatever that means).
But Kaling isn’t doing it right. She’s too into herself; just see the profile’s kicker in which she brags about her karaoke skills. And she’s just trying to get white guys to like her, when obviously Jezebel commenters should be doling out the popularity points.
Exactly. I’m not doing it right and neither is Kaling. Because here’s the secret: You can’t do it right. Even when white people like you, especially if white men like you, it’s not good enough. But that’s OK, because even when white men like you, white men hate you.
That’s why women of color have to create our own set of standards; because even when we’re right, we’re wrong. I did extra credit and still got in trouble.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Apparently the only way to succeed as a woman of color is to let white people call all the shots.