A New York Elementary School banned the song Jingle Bells over a possible connection to blackface.
Council Rock Primary School in Brighton banned the song citing a report from Boston University professor Kyna Hamill in 2017, in which she said that the first public performance of the song, 150 years ago, may have included singers in blackface.
“Jingle Bells,” Council Rock principal Matt Tappon wrote in an email to the Rochester Beacon, has been replaced with other songs that don’t have “the potential to be controversial or offensive.”
Tappon went on to cite Hamill’s research.
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Hamill, however, was shocked to hear about the school’s ban.
“I am actually quite shocked the school would remove the song from the repertoire. … I, in no way, recommended that it stopped being sung by children,” she told the Beacon. “My article tried to tell the story of the first performance of the song, I do not connect this to the popular Christmas tradition of singing the song now.”
Hamill continued, “The very fact of (“Jingle Bells’”) popularity has to do (with) the very catchy melody of the song, and not to be only understood in terms of its origins in the minstrel tradition. … I would say it should very much be sung and enjoyed, and perhaps discussed.”
When a reporter from the Beacon shared Hamill’s response with the school board, Allison Rioux, Brighton Central School District assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction changed their explanation for banning the song.
“Some suggest that the use of collars on slaves with bells to send an alert that they were running away is connected to the origin of the song Jingle Bells. While we are not taking a stance to whether that is true or not, we do feel strongly that this line of thinking is not in agreement with our district beliefs to value all cultures and experiences of our students,” Rioux claimed.
“For this reason,” Rioux concluded, “along with the idea that there are hundreds of other 5 note songs, we made the decision to not teach the song directly to all students.”
The Beacon report shot down her claim with this:
A quick Google search shows that bells on horses were common as far back as Roman times. The linkage of “sleigh bells” with slave bells is not addressed in Hamill’s paper. When I asked Hamill about this, she responded:
“The use of bells on enslaved peoples may be true, but there is no connection to the song that I have discovered in my research. Perhaps finding a well-referenced source for this claim might be in order if that is what (school officials) want to determine as the cause for not singing it.”