I Woke Up Like This: Unpacking White, Male Privilege


Over my winter break, as I perused Hulu for something to watch, I came across The Mindy Project. I had heard good things bout the show yet previously hesitated because I wasn’t a big fan of The Office or other show like it. I quickly binged every available episode until sadly I reached the final one with the promise of new episodes beginning on Valentine’s Day.

For those who don’t watch the show (though you should really give it a try) it centers on Mindy Kaling’s character, Mindy Lahiri, a OB/GYN living in New York. Though out the show, Mindy experiences typical ups and downs with co-workers, family and friends, and romantic relationships while addressing important Asian American tropes.

(Spoiler alert) Last week’s episode began with Mindy preparing for an interview to be the new head of the OB/GYN department at her hospital. After a series of nauseatingly gendered questions about her work/life balance from a panel of all white, male doctors, Mindy does not receive a second interview though her alcoholic, Southern gentleman co-worker who hasn’t even worked at the hospital as long as her made it to the second round. Frustrated by the day’s events, she goes to bed wishing she were a white man and when she wakes up she is one.

As Mindy adjusts to her new life as Michael Lancaster, which she admits in a voice over is the whitest name ever (she’s not wrong), she discovers the privilege and luxury she has as a white, male doctor.

For a fuller recap and interview of the episode’s writer, go here. http://www.indiewire.com/2017/03/the-mindy-project-lang-fisher-white-man-ryan-hansen-1201793611/

As much as I laughed my way through Mindy’s exploration of white, male privilege, by the end of the episode I was a little disappointed. Sure, Mindy made a couple personal breakthroughs as she always does, but little else happened. Everyone else still maintained their passive acceptance of the power the white patriarchy. When she speaks to another co-worker who is also a woman of color about it, her co-worker scoffs at her naiveté.

The writers touched on a lot of really important points, but at the end of the day Mindy and the viewer were the only ones experiencing them, much like real life. The episode illustrates really well how easy it is for someone regardless of their race or gender to do nothing. Mindy experiences first hand the comfort white privilege affords her and the discomfort of realizing the rampant sexism and racism that courses through her workplace. She comes to understand the importance of using a position of privilege to speak out against discrimination. I’m not entirely sure who her viewers are but it was nice to have an episode that explored privilege in such an unfiltered way. It’s important to have a storyline that takes a moment to reflect on the implicit advantages that some people are born with. Unfortunately, Mindy-as-Michael’s realization isn’t something a lot of people will experience, but until then, at least we’ll always have this episode.


Parents, take note.

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