Newspaper article International New York Times

Brooklyn Is at War with Itself

Newspaper article International New York Times

Brooklyn Is at War with Itself

Article excerpt

In a borough where two conservative notions, competitiveness and traditionalist purity, flourish, the tension is made more apparent by parenting.

In popular lore, Brooklyn used to be a place you escaped to shed the skin of hereditary disadvantage. Today, it's becoming a place you go to silver the spoon of hereditary advantage.

Old Brooklyn's relationship to America was that of an outbound pump. It has been home to a staggering number of extraordinary children, often of relatively ordinary parents, who later achieved greatness: Woody Allen, Lauren Bacall, Jay-Z, Neil Diamond, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Larry King, Spike Lee, Joan Rivers, Carl Sagan, Howard Schultz, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbra Streisand.

New Brooklyn has reversed the flow, suctioning in migrants from the ranks of America's hyper-talented, who arrive and swiftly begin immunizing their children against even the slightest hint of mediocrity.

New Brooklyn has hardly displaced the Old. The New, concentrated in the neighborhoods closer to Manhattan, still represents a fraction of the vast borough's 2.6 million people. The two Brooklyns awkwardly coexist, nowhere more starkly than in politics: Brooklyn votes emphatically for the left's relative egalitarianism -- giving President Obama 81 percent of its vote -- even as its gentrifiers drive out the poor, secede from the public education system and, in many ways, embody how the country increasingly shows the patterns of an inheritance society.

These reflections stir in a recently made Brooklyn parent who has spent a lot of time sitting in the park, carrier-tethered to a little boy, engaging in stroller-watching, receiving advice about how soon the Chinese lessons must begin, keeping a straight face through the stern warnings about how sleep training is variously a miracle and Satan incarnate.

Brooklyn has managed to become a global brand, synonymous with cool, the cutting edge, the irreverent new. Yet it is a place of staggering personal conservatism: where children are imagined to be all-consuming works of art, where motherhood is essentialized and deified in a way that would dismay many in the previous generation of women. …

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