Wednesday, May 12, 2010

To be a female New York Jew in the age of Kagan

Much has been made about the overrepresentation of New Yorkers and Jews on the Supreme Court. And now Kagan! It's fairly self-explanatory how overrepresentation negatively impacts the underrepresented. But what of those who are part of that very same demographic? We must feel kind of awesome now, right? Yes and no.

So Kagan, in brief: Upper West Side to Hunter for high school. Me: Upper East, Stuyvesant. We're practically twins! Except not so much. The similarity in background does not make me feel as though positions of immense power are at my fingertips. It does the following things:

-It reminds me of how much privilege comes from simply having the luck to be born at a place thought by many, for better or worse, to be the center of everything, to a community that might be much-hated but that traditionally encourages being a good student. (I could go on re: assimilation, blah blah, Jews aren't so studious these days, and the same will come soon enough of every 'model immigrant' group in this country. But these things take generations, and for now there's still a lot of my kind excelling in these realms.)

-It makes me hyper-aware of how little I've done with a background of what is apparently the ultimate in privilege (daughter of a gastroenterologist, no less!). What have I done with my life? Am I doing what I can to work that geographically-, Semitically- and gastrointestinally-derived privilege to the fullest? No one's debating my interpretation of the Constitution or resemblance to Kevin Arnold.

-It reminds me how demographic groups always look more homogeneous from the outside. As in, coming from a similar background allows me not so much to identify with Kagan as to be able to imagine just the kind of student she was, and where she would have fit into the general scheme of things. As an academic late bloomer (it happens), I have trouble identifying with the straight-A student. And no doubt within the always-an-A-student community, there's sufficient diversity that for one reason or another, even there, Kagan appears part of a specific mini-demographic as well.

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