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Meet Mindy Kaling: Pulse Everywhere Keynote Speaker Image

Meet Mindy Kaling: Pulse Everywhere Keynote Speaker

By Martta Eicher Rabago

When tasked to write a biographical blog about Mindy Kaling, I jumped at the chance. I have long admired her as an actress, producer, director, and best-selling author.

What I find compelling about Mindy is her longtime groundbreaking presence as an advocate for women, diversity, and inclusion in Hollywood.

Mindy Kaling Headshot

I began by researching her life statistics. I knew she was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to immigrant parents from India. Both of her parents were professionals—her mother was a doctor, an OB/GYN, and her father was an architect. In 2002 while in college, Mindy wrote a short play with her roommate, Brenda Withers. A comedy about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the play was a recognized hit at the New York International Fringe Festival. And that was just the beginning.

By 2005, Mindy joined the cast of NBC’s comedy, “The Office,” as a writer who took the on-screen role of character Kelly Kapoor. She was only 24, and her tenure was for over 150 episodes. That is where I became most familiar with her. As the show entered reruns, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t hear the familiar theme song, laughter, and saying the lines in sync with the soundtrack, especially Kelly Kapoor’s.

I don’t talk trash. I talk smack. They’re totally different. Trash talk is hypothetical, like: Your mom is so fat she can eat the internet. But smack talk is happening like right now. Like: You’re ugly, and I know it for a fact ’cause I got the evidence right there.

While “The Office” was a family favorite, Mindy Kaling became a role model in our home. You see, while I am a white woman, my teenage daughter is not. She looks remarkably like Mindy.

As a teenager, my daughter, whom I shall refer to as B, searched for role models and females to emulate. But she also looked to women who have a similar appearance. An honor student who is deep into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), B found a kindred spirit in Mindy Kaling as a woman of color and an advocate for women, diversity, and possessing a quick wit that matched her own. Mindy also has a deep interest in STEM. In 2014, Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Clinton kicked off Google’s ‘Made With Code’ as the tech giant invested $50 Million into the “Made With Code” Program To Get Girls Excited About Computer Science in hopes of closing the gender disparity in tech companies.

Upon further research, it was the revelation that Mindy was not only an actress but also a part of the eight-person writing staff for “The Office” that further piqued my daughter’s curiosity. During her eight seasons at the show, Mindy wrote 26 episodes (more than any other writer) and was the first woman of color nominated for an Emmy in any writing category. After “The Office,” she created, wrote, and produced “The Mindy Project.” Mindy was also the voice of Disgust, a tear-jerker favorite, in the PIXAR movie “Inside Out.” Mindy also starred alongside the legendary Emma Thompson in the film “Late Night.” With every project, my daughter became a bigger “fan” of Mindy Kaling, especially with the recent Netflix series “Never Have I Ever” which centers around a teenage girl and friends, all from minority backgrounds. B personally identifies with the main character, who is based on Mindy’s high school experiences.

When Mindy published her first two books, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” and “Why Not Me?”, B not only read them, she identified with them. The obedient, sensitive, and studious child, the friend who shows up, the awareness of the elderly and those in need. They are simpatico including their ability to speak up and advocate for themselves and other women. Most of all, there are the common anxieties that everyone has, but Mindy shared them honestly paving the way for B to share her own. What did my daughter do in response to knowing all this about Mindy? She joined drama, became the president of the poetry club at her high school, and took a serious interest in writing. She also took to recording Mindyisms and other “proverbs” of self-support in a notebook.

Often, I will hear Mindyisms quoted at the right time and the right place. Recently, our daughter, who is a school ambassador, recalled how a white male parent complimented her for being mature and well-spoken during a school tour. Later, while sharing the incident with us, she remembered and found Mindy’s quote in her notebook. She read it aloud:

‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well-meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’

It was conflicting for my daughter, a brown girl, to be given a compliment by a white man who failed to realize that she had to embody those characteristics he admired to be chosen as a school ambassador. But like Mindy, she refused to be othered. “I’m an A student,” Mindy said. “I’m addicted to feedback, and I want to please people. That’s sort of how I’ve gotten to where I am. And I think that it’s insidious to be spending your time talking about your otherness, rather than doing the hard work of your job.” B never spoke of the incident again.

There is another source of connection for B and Mindy; both have an incredible drive while embracing learning. Education was emphasized in her family and ours. According to Mindy,

We were supposed to be very studious and observant and helpful…The expectation was not that I would be entertained by anybody but that I would come up with my own entertainment.

Perhaps that is where the roots of Mindy’s comic genius and writing expertise comes from. There is also their commonality of being pushed aside by men and fighting for a voice. Did I mention that B has four older brothers? And she has matching humor that can easily disarm them and others while putting them in their place. In all truth, her brothers adore her.

Having a voice, speaking her truth, living with determination, and creating her own opportunities are essential to Mindy. At the 2018 Dartmouth commencement ceremony, Mindy proclaimed,

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you?

“Why not me?” has become a mantra in our house, thanks to Mindy. With every incident of denied possibility, B is quick to say, “Why not me?” That is because B sees Mindy as a courageous woman fearlessly facing both prejudice and gender inequality often recognizing, like our daughter, that she is the only woman of color in the room. Mindy calls on others to believe we have all benefited from a form of privilege and should pay it forward. And she does it with kindness, humility, and wisdom, which Mindy says she received from her mother, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2014.

Mindy wants to be a role model for herself and others. There is no doubt she is an inspiration to non-conformists, aspiring artists, and women of color. One of them lives in my home. No wonder Mindy was named to TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World List, Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year, earned six Emmy Award nominations and was ELLE’s Women In Hollywood honoree. Mindy’s work ethic is undeniable. And there is nothing more elegantly self-assured than to admit that “When it comes to decision making, be your own best friend.”

Mindy has helped create another generation of women who are advocates by being a constant undeniable presence, unflinching in the face of opposition, and unwilling to be removed. Thank you, Mindy, for the greatest gift to everyone, especially women—yourself. A woman who is smart, breaking down stereotypes, and has an incredible connection to her audience. Not only is there a young woman who resembles Mindy in many ways at my home, including a wicked sense of humor, she too wants to follow in her own determined footsteps as a Girl Boss just like Mindy. And as Mindy’s said,

If you don’t see a clear path for what you want, sometimes you have to make it yourself.

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