On Holding One Other in Contempt

There's an affliction that strikes countries whose histories come out of colonialism. It's one of the legacies that dangles on, like a dying but not-quite-dead jellyfish, wrapping its tentacles over whatever it can reach, spreading its venom to newer and newer generations. It's the sense that what happens in your space of the world, what takes place in your territory, is not quite real. It isn't really happening to proper people. What is real, or important, or of anything significance at all, happens Over There -- in the Real World, where Real People Live. Where we inhabit are the realms of the shadow people.This post was prompted by, but is only partly about the closure of Starbucks COB. It's also about bigger issues: about the way in which we treat ourselves, about our expectations that we citizens have of our country and our development, and the way in which those expectations are exploited by those people who enter the political arena. It's tangentially about the way in which we behaved like adults when following the US presidential elections one year ago, but how we revert to childishness when we follow our own (although the idiocies presented us by our own politicians are no different from the mass of idiocy force-fed to American citizens, and, in many cases, are less egregious (can anyone say Rod Blagojevich?)). But it's fundamentally about what lies at the core of this tendency, and it's this: somehow we think we are only good enough for second-class everything. Somehow, we believe that the good stuff should be saved for our visitors, put on display for the real world. Somehow, we don't actually think we're real.Let me put it another way. We don't think we deserve stuff that other people consider ordinary. Now this doesn't simply affect us here in The Bahamas. It occurs throughout the Caribbean and Africa, with notable exceptions. In this, we mirror our colonial pasts, when the good stuff was saved for sending to the motherland (or serving to her representatives) and the dregs were good enough for us.We see evidence of this situation in many of the homes in which we grew up, where we had one room in which we put all our goodies -- the best furniture, the best decor, the good china, the pretty drapes -- and which we used only when visitors came by -- and only very special visitors at that. Some of us kept the dining table set with our china and silverware, making that space a kind of museum for our good stuff. Many of us kept the plastic on the furniture. In some cases, in houses that were built in the second half of the twentieth century particularly, we even had a separate entrance for different sorts of people: friends and relatives and family would enter through one door (usually the kitchen or side door) and only visitors would walk through the front.Now as far as that goes, it's an interesting cultural adaptation to a history of violence and subordination. By itself, it isn't remarkable. It's even got many good qualities about it -- there's always a space in one's home that is ready to entertain visitors, there's room for hospitality, there's order, there's good sense.But where it becomes dangerous is when we take that practice outside our homes and apply it to the society at large -- to our core institutions, to our city, to our nation as a whole, as we do -- reserving the new and the shiny for the special visitors (or the people at the top), like having a special conference room for the Minister in many agencies, and another "conference room" for ordinary mortals; or reserving the use of a newly renovated building for special occasions and special people; or deciding, implicitly, that a certain level of comfort or service, a certain quality of experience, is "good enough" for ordinary Bahamians, and that the kindness and warmth and smiles are only turned on for foreign visitors.(more to come)