Lift Up Your Heads

We all know the words of our beloved national anthem penned by Timothy Gibson. But have you ever stopped to truly pay attention to those words? If you have, you may have noticed that those words hold a key to unlocking doors we have yet to open as a nation. That golden key is cut with four words: lift up your heads.

Gibson encouraged us to lift up our heads so that we can do critical things: march together, see the world’s view of us, press onward, pledge to excel, and move “steady sunward” – meaning to progress with a keen, unmovable focus despite the obstacles along the way.

I do not believe it was only art and poetic giftedness that lead Mr. Gibson to call on us to lift up our heads so that we can be able to do any of those things. I believe he became a musical prophet through the penning of our anthem, because with less than three months before we celebrate 40 years as a nation (a full generation), we still need to do what he said to be able do the things he said we could.

In doing what he said Bahamas, we need to lift up our heads out of two of the single largest roadblocks to marching together, seeing the world’s view of us, pressing onward, pledging to excel and progressing “steady sunward” – political tribalism and our suffocating affinity with mediocrity.

Tribalism – A Treasured Tool

Our politicians have many choices to make when it comes to what social and ethical path the citizenry should be admonished (ideally by example) to follow. One of those choices is how the country should be led to view the role of politics in the nation. Political service in itself is a noble thing. Political tribalism on the other hand, is wholly pestilential in The Bahamas.

Some politicians see rabid political support as desirable. After all, one needs to have reasonable comfort that no matter what happens, there will be a group of persons who will support their Party and its politicians – even when that involves the abandonment of reason, common sense, integrity and patriotism.

The trade off though, is that those politicians have a hand in steering their country toward polarization on the basis of politics. Yes, they shall have their rabid supporters, but they have also gained a people whose personal identity is inextricably meshed with a political party and its politicians.

Depending on who you support, we then determine the value and judgments we place on our fellow Bahamians – to the point of hating them, treating them differently or wanting to deny them basic rights and freedoms if their political identity is not in line with our own.

We do not even need to know a person – as soon as we find out their politics, we think we know all we need to know about them. We have collectively reduced our nation to the color of a t-shirt or wristband, and sized up one another on the basis of whether you support one man over another.

We are all guilty – PLP and FNM supporters alike. There is no special genetic code for an FNM supporter that differs from a PLP supporter and vice versa. I have seen very silly PLP supporters and very silly FNM supporters – and they are all silly for the same reason – misplaced love of a political Party over everything else.

Far too many of us do not see politics as simply the art and science of governance. We see politics as a life compass whose true North changes with personal interests and agendas. “Educated” people become stiflingly ignorant over politics. “Christian” people become seethingly uncharitable over politics. Eyes and ears become blind and deaf over politics. Gray matter becomes a scary matter over politics.

Our heads are stuck in the dank, rank hole of political tribalism. We need to lift up our heads.

Tribalism at Carifta

Any right-thinking Bahamian had to have been ashamed of what took place during the opening ceremony of 42nd Annual Carifta Games, where the Sports Minister and the Prime Minister showed the country and the world that they not only are incapable of distinguishing between a national event and political one, but they do not care to do so.

If the Minister of Sports was a patriot and a democrat, he would not have done the ignoble disservice to his country of addressing the Games and telling the world that 15 years of his country’s existence as an independent nation did not actually exist. He did so by charting the history of sports in The Bahamas, listing the names of all sports ministers since our Independence except those who served under the Free National Movement’s 1992, 1997 and 2007 terms in office.

Minister Danny Johnson’s defective history lesson was not cute. It was not clever. It was not even politically astute – it was just plain stupid and beneath anyone who carries the title of honourable.

Which nation of young people was he seeking to educate by omitting 15 years of our nationhood? Which viewers via television and the world wide web was he seeking to enlighten about our development as a nation of athletic champions? We hosted over 20 Caribbean countries during Carifta. There is not one of those nations whose leaders are so paltry as to diminish their own path to development in the way the Minister did of The Bahamas. He depreciated himself and dishonoured what the majority of Bahamians made possible on three separate occasions in an independent Bahamas.

The Late Charles Maynard

What the country does not know but now will, is that Minister Johnson’s child’s play speech was actually the lesser of the tribalism that took place at Carifta. According to the family of the late Charles Maynard – a champion of sports and cultural development and the driving force behind The Bahamas becoming host to Carifta this year – the former Minister of Sports and Culture was supposed to have been honored at the opening ceremony – but was not.

The family was contacted by the organisers and advised that a portion of the programme was to be dedicated to Mr. Maynard and his contributions to sports and the development of the national stadium. The family was shown a preview clip of what was supposed to be the video tribute to be played during the ceremony. A presentation to the family was also to take place.

But much to the family’s shock and dismay, they arrived at the ceremony to find that what they were told would be the scheduled tribute was not on the programme. And as for what was supposed to be a presentation to the family – the family was given seats on the eastern side of the stadium, with no way to access the ceremony’s platform even if the promised presentation was held.

Carifta is not a PLP event. It is not an FNM event. It is a regional event for which The Bahamas was host. Mr. Maynard was a Bahamian and former representative of the people. His legacy in sports and cultural development is without dispute or infamy. But his legacy and the planned recognition thereof was scrapped. Why?

Either the Carifta Committee or the government itself should tell us why. An entire video production and presentation at a live event is not simply left off a programme by accident, as such a thing would obviously require the requisite coordination and planning as part of the opening ceremony.

If the Minister responsible had not shown his hand in his unwillingness to acknowledge 15 years of the nation’s existence that included key, Carifta-based contributions by Mr. Maynard, then it may have been easier to give some benefit of the doubt in this matter. He however, showed his hand – and he had no spades, but he does have some explaining to do.

As for the Prime Minister, who was wholly ungracious in his address, seemingly forgetting that Carifta is not a Bahamian but a Caribbean event – he too developed selective amnesia about how we have gotten to this point as a nation of Olympic champions and budding track and field stars who will now compete in a world-class stadium here at home.

To this, I offer the Prime Minister a belated Easter present in the form of a point of fact: Sir, you won’t disintegrate, be stripped of your title as prime minister or lose anything other than perhaps your cool, by mentioning the name of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in a factually accurate light. You will still be “boss” after having done so – I promise.

Minister Johnson and Prime Minister Christie – lift up your heads.

Our Love of Mediocrity

Our Carifta team did an outstanding job at this year’s games, placing second behind Jamaica and providing Bahamians at home and abroad with much to be proud of. Their successes – and that is of all the athletes whether they medaled or not – should be properly celebrated by the nation, and our country should do all it can to give these young champions the support they require as they continue their athletic pursuits.

Our handling of Carifta however, did not mirror the excellence shown by our athletes. By now, pretty much everyone online and who reads or watches the news from around the region and the world knows the systemic failures that took place in the hosting of Carifta. I will not list them here as they are well documented, and you can check out my Facebook blog or web blog for those news articles you may have missed.

What I will focus on though is what our response has been to the region and the world doing what it would have done to any other country – calling us out on areas where we were sub-standard in the hosting and coverage of this event.

A country’s reputation is a terrible thing to waste. The problem we have as a nation in general, is that we are far too satisfied with passing off mediocrity as “the best ever”, so much so that if we be honest with ourselves, we are a country that despises excellence when we see it in others. Even our children – especially our boys – try to dumb down for their friends and classmates so that they are not ostracized for being a very smart student.

We generally do not support and celebrate persons who are excellent at what they do – we hate on them and do our best to try to tear them down. It is because deep in the bowels of our culture we are painfully insecure and love mediocrity.

Local organisers have refused to call the documented failures at Carifta what they truly are. Instead, they are calling them “hiccups” – that is to say that everything was fine and they did everything they were supposed to have done, but that since we live on planet earth, sometimes things go wrong.

It is that attitude that demonstrates that officials and organisers have no true intention of improving on where they failed, because they are not even willing to admit they failed in key areas that have since been reported to the world. You cannot fix what you claim was never broken to begin with.

The excuse of “this was our first time” does not cut it. We knew we were hosting Carifta. The problem areas were by no means minor. Just how we are in love with bringing in American and European consultants to tell us what to do, we could have done the necessary consulting and collaborating with experts in the Caribbean so that we knew what needed to be done for Carifta, and did what needed to be done in all areas.

If we are content to brush off the region’s criticisms because it’s just “them Jamaicans” and other Caribbean nationals who we generally like to think we are better than anyway – how do we plan to meet the standards the IAAF will demand for its World Relays that we will host next year?

Instead of addressing the Bahamian people on the failures and what the government will do to make sure we meet the standard for the next event, we have one government official trying to cast blame on a private sector company, while other officials are saying they do not want to talk about the bad, just the positive. Is that how you fix things, by pretending they do not exist?

True Bahamian pride is wanting to do your best and to be the best. It is not “whatever buck up goes” and calling it “the best ever”. We can do better, and must do better – not just in events like these, but in the way we live, the way we work and the way we present ourselves to each other and the world.

Lift up your heads.

By Sharon Turner
This column appears in The Tribune