Misusing National Symbols – “ACCORDING TO ME” TRIBUNE COLUMN

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I’ve always believed that “national pride” without knowledge about and esteem for the codified symbols of one’s nationhood is not national pride at all, but simply an emotion of form over substance draped in national colors – colors that for us are too often the incorrect ones at that.

Our misuse of national symbols in The Bahamas, our widely accepted degrees of ignorance about those symbols, and the lax attitude of authorities in enforcing the law on the use of these symbols are three of the biggest indicators of a progressively weakening national and cultural identity in our country.

As celebrations for our 40th birthday were held and continue, the widespread lawbreaking regarding our national flag has been an intensely disheartening thing to me and indeed is every year.

Our ignorance and indifference about the very standard of our nation (the flag) is symptomatic of a broader issue among Bahamians: a general lack of personal ownership of a system of values that anchors us and is the foundation for what we like to refer to as cultural identity.

Older Bahamians tend to accuse the younger of lacking cultural identity. Well to the extent that is true, the search for reasons need go no further than the doorsteps and borders of our homes and communities, because culture is a set of norms, values and traditions passed down from generation to generation.

As that transfer of culture diminishes from parent to child as the primary source, and from national institutions to the populace as secondary sources, the strength of a culture and one’s likelihood to clothe the psyche with the same consequently diminishes.

A child is not born with a cultural identity; he or she has to acquire it from teaching, training and exposure. So if you show a child that the symbols of his or her nationhood do not matter, then that is how he or she will likely behave toward those symbols.

And since these symbols are integral in our nationhood, that child also learns that there is nothing particularly special about Bahamian culture that needs to be esteemed over that of any other country. When this manifested in our youths’ preferential identification with the arts and norms of other cultures, we suddenly brand them as being culturally vacant.

I often wonder whether Bahamians would likely have a truer, deeper respect and appreciation for its nationhood, and jealously guard the symbols of that nationhood if The Bahamas actually had to battle for its independence, and if the seed of blood in battle was sown into the earth for the opportunity to become an independent nation.

But we didn’t battle for independence. We didn’t wrestle with England for freedom. That may be why we appreciate so little, are so laid back in our “freedom” and put up little to no resistance when our personhood is attacked or threatened. Human nature is to rarely appreciate what you did not have to struggle for.

Be as it may any merit in such philosophical postulations, our authorities meantime – government and law enforcement – need to appreciate that they are not stifling patriotism by stopping the public from misusing our chief national symbol (the flag), but are encouraging lack of patriotism, not to mention lawbreaking, by not doing so.

Lawful Use of The Flag

Before outlining sections of the law about the flag that are popularly broken without consequence, I would that more Bahamians understand that if the color of the flag you wave is wrong, it is not your nation’s flag.

Blue, yellow and black are the colors of the flag of Barbados, not The Bahamas. Far too many Bahamians think this doesn’t matter, and the authorities don’t enforce the laws on this, and so we have flags all over this country purporting to be the Bahamian flag that in fact, are not.

The Flag and Coat of Arms Act governs the use of our flag, coat of arms and how other flags ought to be used in the country. It says persons wishing to use, make, import or sell the national flag or any objects resembling the flag are required to apply to the Minister (currently National Security) for a permit to do so, under the conditions laid out for that permit. Now, how many people actually do this?

Persons who import Bahamian flags and products resembling the flag ought to be producing to Customs written approval from the Ministry for such imports and the imports should be in compliance with the requirements regarding the flag’s colors.

The pantone (color system) colors for the flag as provided by the Ministry of National Security are Aquamarine PMS 3145, Gold PMS 123 and Black PMS Standard. If the imports don’t match that standard (and they frequently don’t), Customs should not be clearing them.

If this law were enforced, much of the items with improper colors we see being flown, draped and sold as independence paraphernalia in the country would be stopped at the borders. And if the law’s regulations were enforced, people would know what kinds of items are permissible for production or sale and which are not.

Governments should ensure the public is educated on the Flag and Coat of Arms Act so the country knows how it ought to comport itself with respect to our national flag.

The Act also says “The National Flag shall be kept clean and shall be maintained in a reasonable state of repair when flown.” It goes on in Part 1, Section 4 (2) of its regulations: “When the National Flag becomes worn, faded or otherwise unfit for use, it shall be disposed of privately by burning.”

So can someone tell us why in Freeport as one example, disgustingly faded Bahamian flags were and are erected for independence at roundabouts throughout the city? In addition to breaking the law, whoever authorized the hoisting of those flags has to have zero national pride.

Abaco broadcaster Silbert Mills meantime posted to Facebook a photo of a bunting in flag colors he said was raised and flown in Central Abaco instead of the national flag at the district’s independence ceremony. Again not only is this in contravention of the law, it is a stunning display of indifference and disrespect for the national flag.

As for flying the flag at private companies or buildings, Ministerial approval is also required by law, and it is to be flown between sunrise and sunset. Where it is flown after sunset, it must be “properly illuminated”. This is another legal requirement not often enforced, as many flags are not lowered at sunset and certainly not illuminated during nighttime hours at both private and government buildings.

And as for the flying of flags of other nations in The Bahamas, this portion of the law needs to be taught to many Bahamians, not the least of which being the Director of Cultural Affairs, who during ZNS’ live coverage of the independence ceremony on Clifford Park, ignominiously admonished all Haitian nationals in the country that “this is not Haiti, don’t fly your flags here.”

Director Moxey-Brown decided that a fitting time to broadcast her xenophobic message was right before the ceremonial raising of our national flag. Not only was her statement on Independence Day gratuitously insulting and out of order for an officer in the public service, it was ignorant of the law that came into effect at independence.

The Flag and Coat of Arms Act does not say no other nation’s flag should be flown in The Bahamas. The Act says that with the exception of any foreign nation’s flag flown at any embassy, consulate, mission or military establishment of that foreign nation; if a flag of another nation is flown, the Bahamian flag should be flown as well.

Section 9 of its regulations goes on to say: “Where flags of a foreign nation are flown along with the National Flag, they shall be approximately the same size, and flown from separate staff at the same height, as the National Flag.” The Act also requires that our flag be “in a more prominent position than the other flags” in such instances.

Our flag is the key representation of our nation. It is impossible to engender true national pride without a national understanding of how the flag should be handled and of the consequences in law for being found guilty of its misuse.

Coat of Arms & Other Symbols

The Coat of Arms is protected under the same Act as the national flag. Like the flag, Ministerial approval should be sought and granted for its use, production, importation and sale.

Which in part made me question who authorized the erection of a blank Coat of Arms fixture as part of 40th independence decorations at the roundabout near the Ministry of Works on JFK in Nassau. The object, seemingly made of cardboard, was cut in the shape of the Coat of Arms, but the object was not painted out at all.

If whatever the producers of this display at that roundabout were trying to do was not finished in time for its erection, why put such a thing on public display, and along a major thoroughfare in the nation’s capitol at that?

As for our other national symbols, perhaps one of the most cogent examples of why cultural identity is a misnomer for many people was displayed via ZNS nightly news on independence eve, where the “national voice” took to the streets asking Bahamians what our national symbols were.

As it is every year, most persons questioned did not know what their nation’s symbols were (like the national fish, tree, flower, etc). State Minister Michael Halkitus happened to be one of the man-on-the-street interviewees, and was asked who penned the Pledge of Allegiance.

Minister Halkitus did not know the answer, but he had company – as no one else asked knew the answer. What made this news story even more painful to watch was that ZNS – the “national voice” – did not know the answer either.

The reporter in the story declared – as to correct and inform those who did not know – that the writer of the Pledge is Mr. Hervis Bain. The problem? That is completely wrong.

Hervis Bain designed our Coat of Arms. Rev. Philip Rahming is the writer of our Pledge of Allegiance. Even the “national voice” in that story lacked knowledge about its nationhood as it hit the streets asking Bahamians about their knowledge of the same.

And so I end as I began: national pride without knowledge about and esteem for the codified symbols of one’s nationhood is not national pride at all. May we put more of a focus on changing this in The Bahamas.

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