I thought I had fallen out of love with Mindy Kaling. The slow bleaching of her hair and (suspected) facial amplifications felt contradictory to her OG message of loving yourself and being a strong, proud visible minority woman in Hollywood—plus I straight up could not handle her character’s multiple avoidable missteps and outrageous storylines on The Mindy Project.
As much as I loved seeing a brown woman (speaking without an accent!) as the star of a major sitcom, when Kaling started making jokes like how the blonde, blue-eyed girl on her driver’s license is “aspirational,” I had to stop watching her show.
But then, on a friend’s recommendation, I watched last week’s “Mindy Lahiri Is a White Man” episode and found myself crushing on Kaling all over again.
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) March 16, 2017
As the name suggests, episode 12 of the show’s fifth season, which now streams and airs on City, explores how Mindy’s life would be different if she were a white man. Don’t panic, she did not apply white face and traipse around making insensitive jokes. (We’ve all grown some since White Chicks.) Instead, this Freaky Friday-esque episode completely replaced Dr. Mindy Lahiri with Dr. Michael Lancaster, played by total smokeshow Ryan Hansen.
The episode kicks off with Lahiri applying to be the head of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the hospital where she works, but during her interview with a panel completely comprised of old white men, she finds herself being asked questions about how she will balance work with motherhood and manage all of her lady feelings under the pressures of the job.
I can hear you raging, but just wait. It gets better/worse.
As Lahiri falls asleep after a rough day fighting and losing to the patriarchy, she makes a wish that she could be a white man—and wakes up just that. Cue an entirely new intro with Hansen subbed into the lead role and absolutely loving his ability to hail a cab, be given respect without having to fight for it and manspreading on the subway.
— The Mindy Project (@TheMindyProject) March 14, 2017
The trading spaces episode is reminiscent of the story of journalist Summer Brennan switching her Twitter display pic for a photo of her brother and immediately seeing a drop in online harassment and mansplaining. A similar swap was done recently when a man in Pennsylvania changed his email signature from Martin R. Schneider to Nicole—a colleague of his—and quickly noticing a spike in rude, dismissive responses and people questioning his intelligence.
In The Mindy Project, Kaling’s character Lahiri takes this concept one step further by literally walking in a white man’s shoes and seeing the world through his eyes—and let’s just say, though she enjoys the perks, she’s also able to see the people relegated to the sidelines in a new light. Instead of just dwelling on the multiple inherent (white/male) privileges that Lahiri is now afforded in her new bod, the show deep dives into the idea of what it takes to be a strong ally. Since Lancaster can tell a room of hospital execs to “sit down and listen” and they will immediately follow through, he uses his status to advocate for Dr. Irene Lee, an Asian doctor who is the most qualified for the head of the department job.
I won’t go through every moment where I nearly yelled “preach” at my TV because there were far too many. But the real gem from this episode was the absolute *mic drop* moment when Lahiri, as Lancaster, realizes that when your life is easy, it can be hard to truly understand that even people in the same city, same job and same general life as you can still face very different challenges.
“Your life is so carefree, you start wondering why other people don’t just help themselves. Because you think life is just as easy for everyone else,” thinks Lahiri, while still living as a white man.
Watching the show, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine. He is a lovely human being and identifies as a feminist, but he was absolutely shocked when I told him that I sometimes pretend to be on the phone or stop to “text” if I feel like someone behind me is walking too close to me on the sidewalk—practices and concerns that he could not relate to at all. As much as we want to be there for each other, we fundamentally don’t understand what someone else’s life is like, and we have to stop pretending that we do—this episode got that.