When I first started watching the show five seasons ago, I fully expected a Friends-like sea of whiteness—which I got—but was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the main geeks is a POC. A PhD from India, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) is not only the most self-sufficient one out of the bunch, but the most attractive as well. The showrunners try their damndest to make him as unattractive as possible via mismatched patterns, slightly stooped shoulders and a nondescript non-hairstyle, but it doesn’t really work. He's a good-looking man, and it'll take a lot more than a horrible wardrobe to hide it.
Unfortunately, as much as I look forward to seeing Raj on my screen every week, his characterization leaves a whole hell of a lot to be desired.
1. Not only is Raj a geek (a definite plus in my book), he’s a hot geek.
2. Raj is a brilliant astrophysicist. He can easily hold his own against fellow geek Sheldon Cooper’s super-sized brain and even bigger ego.
3. Raj’s family is extremely wealthy. Or as Sheldon puts it in nerd-speak “halfway between Bruce Wayne and Scrooge McDuck" (which would put the Koothrappali's roughly at number four on The Forbes Fictional 15 list). Using this as a guide, we can surmise that Raj's family is worth approximately $10 billion dollars.
4. Raj’s parents don't play the white worship game. They're very vocal in their desire for him to settle down with a nice Indian girl, sooner rather than later. Raj’s sister Priya (who is dating main geek Leonard Hofstadter), hid her relationship from them for months because she knew that they wouldn't approve.
5. Despite putting up with borderline racist remarks by best friend Howard Wolowitz, Raj has thrown out a number of “white privilege”-oriented zingers himself. (Yes, I know... This is a very loose interpretation of a character pro, but I take them where I can find them).
1. Raj suffers from selective mutism and can’t talk to women outside his family without imbibing. One of the writer’s favorite recurring gags is to make an oblivious, drunk Raj say something highly inappropriate to a woman and then appear surprised when she walks away in an offended huff. Yeah…*gives a major side-eye to the writers*…that bit has gotten old, and they definitely need to let that horse stay dead and buried.
2. Unless my memory is failing me (and it’s not), Raj is the only one out of the group that has yet to have a steady girlfriend/long-term relationship. Fortunately, Raj finally fell in love this season. Unfortunately, it was with a perky blond deaf girl who was just using him for his money.
See how the writers did that? He had to date a deaf girl so he wouldn’t be hampered by that whole can’t-talk-to-women-without-being-drunk thing. 'Cause you know…they couldn’t actually let him begin to grow as a character and try to work his way through his disorder. Or get some play. Or a real love interest. After five seasons. Uh-huh.
3. Raj is in America on a work Visa, and of course we got the “deportation scare” episode during season three. (Yeah…I know...yet another trope. He’s a stranger in a strange land with brown skin and a funny accent. Hilarious.)
4. Out of all of the main characters, Raj is the only one that doesn’t seem to be growing. Sheldon is turning into an actual human being (mostly); Leonard has been quite lucky in love (one might say almost too lucky); Wolowitz is not only engaged, but was chosen to go to the ISS for three weeks; and Penny has gone from waitress to bartender to paid actress over the years.
And what has Raj done besides get demoted, nearly lose his work Visa, and get used by a woman he thought he loved? Well, besides standing in the shadows of his white friends and longing to be more like them, nothing that I can see.
5. Raj puts up with his best friend Wolowitz’ racist remarks way too much for my comfort. Yes, he usually calls him out on it, but so what?
6. Raj has a pretty visceral dislike of his own culture. He doesn’t like Indian food and can't seem to stand his home country. He always has something pretty deragatory to say about India and allows Sheldon to constantly dispute his knowledge of his own people and religion.
At this point, I'm thoroughly convinced that this show doesn't have any writers that aren't white. I'd be honestly suprised if I found out that they did. Because from where I sit all I see is a POC placed in the “second class citizen” role (again), automatically making the white characters the de-facto heroes, the ones that the audience should look up to and want to emulate.
It doesn’t matter that they’re all typical geeks, it doesn’t matter that they all have the collective social adeptness of a fourteen year old, and it doesn’t matter that out of all them, Raj is the one that seems to be the most put together. Leonard grew up in a loveless home, Sheldon grew up in a fundamentalist religious home with an intolerant mother, and Wolowitz still lives with an über-dependent, overprotective mother who treats her grown son like a stand-in husband and perpetual child all rolled into one (which he doesn’t seem to have a problem with, mind you).
But despite his big brain, stable family, wealth and good looks, it’s Raj that can’t get and keep a woman. It’s Raj that has to worry about being deported. And it’s Raj whose characterization has been stagnant and stunted over five long seasons. It's like the writers/showrunners have no idea what the hell to do with him...and it shows. If I was a cynical person, I’d think that they have no particular interest in making his character anything other than a foil for the white characters. Oh…wait…