The infuriating/ridiculous/frightening saga of an elementary school in Brighton, New York deciding to ban “Jingle Bells” inspired several superb posts, none better than the Comment of the Day by Charles Abbott. Mr. Abbott lives in Brighton, and provided much insight regarding this weird episode, which I wrote about here and here. And here is Charles’ Comment of the Day:
Brighton is a suburb of Rochester NY. Rochester NY is about half way between Buffalo and Syracuse in the western part of New York State.
Brighton is a prosperous suburb, mostly inhabited by households in the upper middle class or professional classes. The suburb of Brighton is contiguous to the City of Rochester. The Brighton Central School District student performance consistently ranks among the 10 best school districts in all of New York State. This has a lot to do with the characteristics of the households who live there, as well as the quality of the teachers and the curriculum.
It’s worth mentioning that a Brighton zip code, 14618, is possibly the “most Jewish” zip code in New York State west of the Hudson River Valley. I live in 14618–offhand I can think of 5 synagogues within a 2 miles of my rhouse–two of them are pretty large by local standards. A Jewish friend of mine pointed out to me that I actually live within an “eruv” (look it up–it was news to me!). I mention this because observers have long noted the tendency of Jewish Americans to lean liberal or Left. The most conservative suburb of Rochester is probably Greece, NY to the NW of Rochester. Brighton tends to be a liberal suburb–upper middle class and liberal–perhaps smugly liberal.
Probably part of the factor here is “virtue signaling”–there is no shortage of houses with “Black Lives Matter” and similar yard signs since the death of George Floyd. Most of the people who live in Brighton are either phenotypically white (Jews included) or educated “visible minorities” such as East Asians, South Asians, Middle-Easterners, etc. The population of Black Americans in Brighton is not large. In that sense, Brighton is noticeably different from Shaker Heights in Cleveland, OH which is perhaps 1/3 Black as well as historically Jewish. Brighton is not a “Black” suburb but a smug white one. Blacks moving out of Rochester proper tend to end up in East Irondequoit, Henrietta, Gates, or Greece far more than Brighton, because it is expensive to live here.
The Brighton Central School District newsletter last year included in its letter from the superintendent the assertion that the Brighton Schools supported “Black Lives Matter.” I’m not certain what that means, but there was a big Black Lives Matter sign (in Brighton’s blue and white school colors) in front of the Twelve Corners Middle School (TCMS) where the Brighton Middle School grounds abut the very busy “Twelve Corners” intersection.
The Brighton Central School District recently changed the name of their team mascot from “The Barons” to “The Bruins.”
My guess offhand, without any direct knowledge, much less proof, and who knows how anything can be proved in this regard, is as follows.
1. Virtue signaling is cheap and it’s easy to go along with the vocal minority that wants to change superficial things such as music curriculum, the team mascot, and putting up a “Black Lives Matter” in school colors at a busy intersection.
2. Perhaps there is an element of the “purity spiral.” The enthusiastic fringe may seek a new cause after having gotten everyone to go along with the last couple cosmetic changes. It’s not hard to change the curriculum in music instruction, so it may be “low hanging fruit” for those who are in a purity spiral. One can be drawn into a purity spiral without knowing it. The internet has definitions of “purity spiral”–no need to belabor the point here.
3. Perhaps there is…what word to use…frustration? despair? disappointment? anger? guilt? … at one’s good fortune to live, work, teach, or study in Brighton compared to the conditions next door in the city of Rochester. The Rochester area tends to be highly segregated de facto on the basis of race and class–similar conditions might be found in someplace like Milwaukee, WI or Hartford, CT. Homicides in Monroe County are way up over three years ago–this year the homicide count in Monroe County is the highest ever.
I will elaborate: within the last five years we had one particular year in which the Monroe County homicide rate was roughly 30–currently we are at 81 for this calendar year. Rochester’s outgoing mayor, the first mayor who was both Black and female (Lovely Warren) has just departed under a cloud, with a variety of scandals involving her and her husband. Her husband with whom she lived was recently arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of an illegal handgun. Wikipedia has details, as does the local newspaper and the courts, regarding the various scandals in Rochester politics and policing.
Rochester City School District performance consistently ranks among the worst in all of New York State. Brighton ranks among the best. Social problems can be easily “racialized,” for lack of a better term, even when underlying factors may not be racial in nature. “Household factors” independent of race but correlated with race are one likely cause, I would argue.
As a final note, Richard Reeves’ book, “The Dream Hoarders,” published by Brookings, is worth reading. One might assert with some evidence that many of the dream hoarders in Monroe County live in Brighton. What’s a dream hoarder to do? I suspect some of my neighbors know they are dream hoarders and seek to demonstrate that they are not part of the problem and their hearts are in the right place.
Racial issues can be a “third rail” in local politics and school administration. Making concessions on hot button issues of an apparently trivial nature is easier and safer than pushing back and saying “I don’t think you’ve adequately made your case for deleting ‘Jingle Bells’.”
I am reminded of Denis Prager’s claim that “courage is the rarest good trait.”