In Kaling’s later work, she spent more time exploring the cultural backgrounds of her Indian characters. But recent criticism of this work highlights her unquestioned regurgitation of the anti-Islam sentiment that exists in Hindu Indian communities, as in a 2020 episode of Never Have I Ever. in on essay for Autostraddle About the disappointments of the show, Himani addresses that episode, in which Devi’s family attends Ganesh puja, a Hindu festival and social event. While there, they meet a recently divorced woman whose family rejected her after she married a Muslim man, and who now regrets not choosing to marry a Hindu man in the first place. Though Himani appreciates Kaling’s attempt to “[lay] bare the Islamophobic underbelly of Hindu-Indian community,” she also calls it “a missed opportunity” to challenge the internal prejudices of the Indian community and depict them as something other than inevitable cultural idiosyncrasies. By the end of the episode, the divorced woman seems wrong for defying her parents’ anti-Islam prejudice, not the other way around.
These criticisms of Kaling’s work have unspooled online amid a flurry of other tangentially related revelations presented as evidence that she deserves this downfall. There’s the fact that her brother wrote a book called Almost Black: The True Story of How I Got Into Medical School By Pretending to Be Black, which is self-evidently exploitative and racist. There’s the fact that she liked one of JK Rowling’s tweets, in which the famously anti-trans author boasted about her “recent royalty checks” in response to someone asking how it felt to lose a huge chunk of her audience. Liking a tweet is fairly trivial evidence of being a TERF, but there’s also a line from Kaling’s 2011 memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, in which she derides her trans neighbors in West Hollywood, a predominantly queer neighborhood in LA. It’s all unflattering, but the storm eclipses the nuanced criticisms of Kaling’s work in favor of a punitive, burn-it-down attitude.
This is not especially surprising. By now it’s well established that social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok reward highly emotional engagement. Outrage and sarcasm are the most virulent sentiments; bluntness and brevity make them easier to spread. The people in charge of and invested in social media companies make money using algorithms that encourage us to click on increasingly frenetic or radical content. They profit off tools that make us want to keep shouting into the void, waiting to hear back.
If we had a better forum for this kind of critical discourse, it might be easier to articulate the reasonable — even boring — consensus at the heart of all this controversy: Kaling has written the same caricature of herself too many times.