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Almost Black: The True Story of How I Got Into Medical School By Pretending to Be Black - Vijay Jojo Chokal-Ingam, Matthew Scott Hansen

I received this book through Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

I will start out with the disclaimer that I am pretty much the pescatarian, "feminazi" that Chokal-Ingam characterizes Sucrose as, so my opinions about this book are not all that surprising.

The writing of this book was over well-done. Lots of big, complicated words and interesting incorporation of philosophy, history, politics, and economics. I think Chokal-Ingam made some very important points regarding how race in conceptualized in America. I liked some of the knowledge he gained from his experience, such as requiring him to rethink what it means to be "black."

But for me, I don't think Chokal-Ingam really took much away from this unique experience. Despite posing as a black man, Chokal-Ingam seemed to learn little of race as a sociological concept. Yes, he experiences some racism as a black man, but he seems to ignore why affirmative action was put in place to begin with: because of the severe disadvantages socially, politically, economically, and psychologically that many black people face, which limits them in certain areas such as the medical profession.

While I personally do not agree with how he took advantage of the system, I think Chokal-Ingam really missed out on a unique learning experience. Instead of learning the racial inequalities that black people face in their day-to-day lives, Chokal-Ingam just focuses on the tiny advantage that some schools give to applicants who are black and how that adversely affected him as an Indian American. His conception feels dichotomous, pinning African American against Indian American, instead of the tackling the real culprit: the mistreatment of people based on their race throughout American history.

Going along with this, when Chokal-Ingam does talk about the lives of African Americans, he comes off as very patronizing. In the narrative, Chokal-Ingam seems very entitled. I understand where Chokal-Ingam is coming from. I can only imagine how frustrating and unfair it is to realize you are at a disadvantage because your race is over-represented in your desired profession. But I would have liked to see Chokal-Ingam at least gain some insight into why the system is the way it is and the disadvantages that affirmative action is trying to reduce. And while he does note that affirmative action has good means, he doesn't really suggest how to make it better or "fix" the problem.

And yes, the "feminazi" in me has to say it: the way he recounts collage experiences with women really grated on me. He mentions at the start that this was how he and his friends talked about women at the time. I totally understand that. But the fact that he does not condone such dehumanizing language as an adult is off-putting. Chokal-Ingam's narrative is very problematic in his participation in fat-shaming, stereotypes, slut-shaming, misogyny, and lack of acceptance.

This is an interesting case of ethics and requires the reader to challenge such concepts as racial identity, fairness, racism, affirmative action, and so-called "reverse racism". While it raises many interesting ethical questions, Chokal-Ingam's narrative was not for me due to his entitlement, lack of understanding of the disadvantages many black Americans face, and anti-feminist language in recounting the events that took place on his journey to medical school.