So Friday was National Pride Day, and individuals and groups around cyberspace hailed the wearing of Bahamian colours and the celebration of all things Bahamian.I'm glad. It's a start. Maybe it's more than a start; maybe it's a step or two towards understanding ourselves and our country, the fact that we the people made the choice to celebrate our nationality and took matters into our own hands.Because not even ten years ago such a day didn't exist. It came into being in 2004, when the Independence Committee headed by Winston Saunders (who had spearheaded the celebratory 29th Independence revelry, celebratory because many Bahamians then believed in help and hope, and the even larger Thirtieth Anniversary celebrations, when it became fashionable and possible to enjoy Independence), noted around the table that even in the midst of the thirtieth anniversary celebrations several very disappointing things had taken place. The first was that many stores and businesses throughout the country had had t shirt days recognizing American independence, decorating their storefronts and windows in red, white and blue, but far fewer were celebrating Bahamian independence in the same way. The second was that people had begun to recognize a need to celebrate being Bahamian but few people really knew how; few people stood still and proud when the National Anthem was being played, many slouching and talking, and many allowing their children to frolic and disturb others; merchants were investing in flags and other paraphernalia but the colours were all too often wrong, more Bajan than Bahamian; and several people in their zeal to celebrate the nation were unintentionally disrespecting it, transgressing the laws governing the national symbols, combining crests with flags, turning flags into clothing or umbrellas, and the like.And then there was the story of the young woman--a girl, really, who had been sent to represent The Bahamas on a broadcast programme in Britain and who, when invited to sing the national anthem, warbled: "O, say, can you see ..."The committee--on which I was sitting for the first time in my capacity as Director of Culture, moved by the overwhelming public embrace of the two independence celebrations of 2002 and 2003--decided that it was time, time, long overdue time to start educating the Bahamian public about the nation, about Independence, about national colours, about the national symbols. So National Pride Day was established. The first one was held the Friday before Independence! And Rawson Square in Nassau was turned into a place of celebration of all things Bahamian.The fact that Friday seemed to be the first time it really took off, replicated itself without the specific and concerted effort of the government, indicates how governments can (and should) plant seeds, water them, and then watch them grow. All too often we underplay, misunderstand, or misrepresent the role of governments in the creation of social and national coherence. For some, the role of government should be invisible; for others it should be omnipotent. The one leads to chaos, leads to vacuums and nature's abhorrence of them, nature's filling of them with all sorts of nonsense like the redefinition of black and white in the Bahamas, like the rewriting of history, the re-enacting of falsehoods. The other leads to rigidity, inflexibility, marginalization, and the dreaded victimization of people and things that don't fit the paradigm.What has happened with National Pride Day is evidence of how governments can work best.So. A step in the right direction, indeed. But it's only a step, and we need a quick march. So let's celebrate the celebration and work on moving on. Or, perhaps more appropriately for this time of year, moving forward, onward, upward, and together.
I'm baking a frozen roll of French bread for breakfast. That's what it said on the package.Know this. As long as I'm awake, little things run through my head, rather like the ticker tape display you see at stock markets. Little communications from my subconscious flash across my conscious mind and distract me from what I'm doing. And unfortunately for me and those around me, those communications have emotional reactions. Recently, I've been operating in a state of low-grade anger. It's a bit like a low-grade fever; it makes me irritable some of the time, snappish and sarcastic (which has its humourous moments). Most of the time, though, it just makes me depressed. It's like being locked in a tiny room with no windows and a nagging relative.The thing that makes me angriest these days is the fundamental disrespect that we offer ourselves as Bahamians, our country, and (yes) our culture. The three are inseparable, and the disrespect is pervasive. I'm not talking about crime or politics here, although both are symptoms. I'm talking about the conviction that far too many of our leaders seem to have that we are really second-rate people. Our country can't compete. We are incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial. We can't develop ourselves, so we have to find foreigners to invest their money in our economy to develop us for us. Etc. (Shut up, Nico).The disrespect comes out when we see what we invest in ourselves, in our society, in the formation, cementing, and celebration of our identity as a sovereign nation. I keep raising the point that we are the third richest independent country in the western hemisphere. So forget the fact that Bermuda and Cayman are richer than we are; they're still colonies/dependencies of Britain. The Bahamas is richer than every other country in the Americas than the USA and Canada.And what do we have to show for it? What monuments, institutions, works of art, buildings, public spaces, have we provided for ourselves (and only ourselves) over the course of thirty-five years? What we did have we have also destroyed -- Jumbey Village comes to mind, along with Goombay Summer, the National Dance School home (the institution still exists, limping along in near-oblivion, but its building was demolished for no reason anyone can give me, whose land still stands empty next to Oakes Field Primary School, and its rent now costs the government a goodly and unnecessary packet), the Dundas Repertory Season, the Government High School.Great nations invest in symbols. They understand the need to spend hard money on creating objects and institutions that mean -- or can mean -- something to the people who belong to the nation, and they create a sense of belonging. Washington D. C. is an example of the kind of grandness that preceded the greatness of a nation; the American founding fathers imagined a great nation, built the symbols, and let the country catch up to their vision. In Britain, squares and statues and public places and institutions and buildings are created for every great moment in their history, and you can see those great moments literally laid out on the ground. In the capitals of our Caribbean neighbours, public and private funds are invested in monuments -- statues, institutions, promenades, parks -- so that even the most humble of their nationals, and the most arrogant of their visitors, can get some idea of who they are.But here in The Bahamas of the twenty-first century, we put up our parks and our monuments and our et ceterae only when we beg the help of our foreign investors. Meanwhile, we take the taxpayers' money and pour it into failed institutions or foreign pockets and cry poor-mouth when asked to help artists explore our identity though self-expression. The people who get our money do not know or care who we are, except that we are whores who will let them wipe their feet on us when they are finished with us. And without them our governments (no matter what initials they wear), who are stewards of the third richest independent government in the New World, choose again and again not invest a penny in the development of the Bahamian person, the Bahamian soul.So how did I get here from what's written on a packet of frozen French bread?Simply this. The French, who have invested millions in their people and their symbols (some of which, like the Eiffel Tower, could be regarded as a horrendous waste of time, aesthetics and money) and who hold in their greatest art museum not only the great art of the French but the great art of the world (the Mona Lisa, after all, rests in the Louvre) have an unassailable sense of themselves. People who know claim that the French are arrogant. But after all, they have things to be arrogant about; their governments' investment in culture has made even the most ordinary and semi-educated Frenchman proud to be French. And that pride leads to quality -- a quality that is recognized world-wide, and that turns, in the end, into money again.Hence the message on the bread package. Microwave not recommended.In this microwave land our politicians and administrators have created for us -- that we have allowed to be created for ourselves -- it's the kind of thing that nags me, and threatens to drive me mad.