There is no shortage of reasons to adore Mindy Kaling- she’s an amazingly talented [hilarious] writer and actor, she has impeccable tastes in clothing, and she prospers in a white male-dominated industry as a non-white, non-double zero woman. For all her success as a writer and character on The Office to her very own show The Mindy Project, I applaud her. However…
Kaling disappoints me severely with the introduction of the character Nurse Tamra, played by Xosha Roquemore (Precious, G.B.F.). Tamra, a black addition to an overwhelmingly white community of staff, patients, and rivals, was introduced during Season 1 as part of a three-episode arc, then brought on as a regular for Season 2. While all the main characters of the show have their flaws and quirks (Morgan certainly doesn’t fit the bill for a nurse), it’s troubling that those of Tamra’s are the same ones audiences are constantly being offered to accept as inherent black behavior. The Mindy Project perpetuates the stereotype of the black person who cannot seem to speak grammatically correctly, or perform their job functions adequately, sans sassy attitude. Was Kaling afraid to create a character who is black that may have inevitably been accused of performing “whiteness?” What we need is a chance to change the discourse surrounding black men and women whose speech reflects the education they’ve received so they are no longer accused of “acting white” and are instead accepted as educated and able, and equal, members of this society.
The fact that Kaling is not the ominous Oppressive White Presence may lend itself to a lacking sense of urgency or disappointment toward her writing of Tamra. She does little else to counteract this portrayal, though, and that can’t be forgiven. The issue is not a denial that Tamra does in fact represent a portion of real black women, but the lack of representation of different black women, who do not have anything in common with these age old tropes that are truly not doing us any favors. As a minority of several sorts, I could have only hoped Mindy Kaling would, quite simply, do better.
Is Tamra a problematic presence or harmless comedic vessel? See for yourself on The Mindy Project Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c on Fox.