Vijay Chokalingham, a man of Indian descent and the brother of comedic actor Mindy Kaling, has written a book about changing his appearance to look African American. He did it to help him get into medical school. Coming out of the University of Chicago, Chokalingham only had a 3.1 grade point average and his MCAT was not high enough to make up for it.Chokalingham decided to shave his head, trim his eye lashes, join the Organization for Black Students and go by his middle name, Jojo.
“Cops harassed me,” he said. “Store clerks accused me of shoplifting. Women were either scared of me or couldn’t keep their hands off me. What started as a devious ploy to gain admission to medical school turned into (a) twisted social experiment.”
Despite his relatively low GPA and his less than glowing MCAT, he got into Washington University in St. Louis’ medical school posing as an African American.
Even though he was harassed by police, accused of shop lifting and scaring women, amazingly, Chokalingham chose to focus on the one perceived advantage of being Black, entrance into medical school over other presumably more qualified candidates. The experience led him to write “Almost Black” where Chokalingham advocates against affirmative action. Maybe if Chokalingham had experienced entrenched, institutionalized racism since he was in fourth grade, instead of for a short time while he pondered the luxury of graduate school, his attitude would be different.
Had Chokalingham been publicly schooled in a Brown/Black area, he likely never would have made it to college, much less thought about gaming the system to get into medical school. Russalynn Ali of the Department of Education says that public schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods are seriously deficient in funding and teaching talent. She cites the fact that 75 percent of Black and Brown dropouts can be isolated to only 2,000 high schools across the country.
Those schools, in some cases, have dismal facilities, outdated textbooks and few digital resources. Teachers are often inexperienced, uncredentialed and rarely stay on the job. Deficient education is one of many reasons for the so-called achievement gap, which is the difference in academic proficiency between Black and Brown populations and their White counterparts. In 2007 for example, only 12 percent of African American male fourth-graders performed at or above reading proficiency, compared to 38 percent for White males. African Americans also have difficulty making up this difference as they move through school. By the time African American students reached high school, nearly half will drop out.
The statistics just get worse as African American males move into the work force, which is evidenced by the fact that there are more African American males in prison than in college, and while African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, African American men make up 47 percent of the American prison population.
The point is public education for many African Americans is unequal compared to more affluent districts mainly populated by Whites. So how does all this relate to sports? Because this inequality often leads African American families to invest in the myth that the only way out is through sports. However, only one in 4,000 African American high school athletes turns pro, and many of those pros are fringe players that never make multi-million dollar salaries.
Consequently, Washington University should be applauded for accepting Jojo Chokalingham as a medical student. The more African American doctors, lawyers and professionals showing the way, the better. Instead, Chokalingham is turning his experience into what he believes is a humorous book containing an argument against African Americans overcoming dismal public schooling and institutionalized racism in some cases in order to qualify for medical school over other candidates.
“I hope the story of my experiences will be a catalyst for social change and opposition to affirmative action racism,” Chokalingham wrote.
Note on perspective: Kevin Lynch is a white, middle-aged man and thus this post is written from that point of view. The author would appreciate illumination of any insensitive blunders to Indian Americans, African Americans and Latin Americans.