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Denigrated Natasha makes SVG proud

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As I write, there is every probability that St. Vincent and the Grenadines may be on the honour roll of the 2010 Commonweath Games in New Delhi, India. The first positive drug test of the Games fell to women’s 100-metre champion Osayomi Oludamola of Nigeria, who, if a second test confirms the first reading, would be stripped of her winners medal, leaving Vincentian Natasha Mayers with the gold medal.{{more}} Oludamola herself was adjudged champion after a controversial reading disqualified the first woman to the tape, Sally Pearson of Australia. Ironically, Mayers herself has served out a two-year ban for a failed drug test.

Gold for SVG would be a great Independence present, just over two weeks before we celebrate our 31st Independence anniversary. Such glory is rare these days, but old-timers would recall fond memories of the days of the early heroics of the likes of George Manning and Maurice King. (Teachers, what about setting your students on a research assignment on such persons?) Mayers’ gold would be a perfect way of advertising the potential of our athletes.

Regrettably, there seems to be something in our national psyche which diminishes our sense of patriotism. In Mayers’ case, this is what one local newspaper had to say on her selection to represent her country in New Delhi:

“The St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Olympic Committee has selected a disgraced athlete, Natasha Mayers, to represent the country at the Commonwealth Games in India…”

Now why should we choose to introduce readers to Mayers’ selection to national duty like that? Has she not paid the price for whatever transgression she may have committed? Is she first and foremost to be remembered for her alleged sins? Must she carry this burden forever? It is only after she was introduced as a “disgraced athlete” that readers are reminded of her achievements. What is it that seems to drive us to always emphasize the negative?

These are questions very relevant to the national debate. In today’s modern world where we have almost unlimited access to the media, we seem to abuse the opportunities offered. Make your own analysis of talk shows for instance. How much time is spent extolling the efforts of national contributors, praising nationals for their accomplishments? Contrast this with the time we spend “running down” persons for deeds alleged or even invented? How often do we talk/write of what is good about this country of ours compared to our moanings of what is wrong?

It is a very serious problem that we have, one which undermines our sense of patriotism and national pride. Whether it is athlete, calypsonian, or some national figure, ridicule, public broadcast of their alleged shortcomings seem to come much more readily than celebration of their accomplishments. For reasons like these we fail to get a grasp of what it means to be a National Hero. In fact, it is far easier to identify national villains than heroes. What legacy are we leaving for our youngsters?

That stream is running too deep in our veins, poisoning us collectively, dulling our sense of self-worth. Everyone with whom we may disagree becomes overnight a target of the worst type of abuse. It is a trend now transmitted to our politics and political affiliation. We go to the market, store or supermarket and exercise our choices, no problem there. I like this, but you prefer that. We may even banter each other, good-heartedly, on those choices. But when it comes to political choice, that is a very different matter. Vilification is the order of the day. Even in engaging in what ought to be public discussion or debate, character assassination takes priority.

On the issue of our own national independence, political affiliation takes precedence. There are many among us who only celebrate independence when “our party” is in power. There are people who only display the national colours if they support the government of the day. Worse, we have firms, which refuse to “light up” or sport the national flag if “no brotha” coming from the government. Where is our sense of national belonging? Politicians and political parties come and go, our country remains.

There is need for us to engage in deep reflection on the road we are trodding. It is as though everything Vincentian is bad, every national selection is prejudiced, every award is biased. Listening to ourselves, one gets the impression that we are just about the worst and worst-off people in the whole wide world. The facts belie this false impression. With all our faults, there is much of which we can be proud, enough reason to wear our colours with dignity. We have a very long way to go in building national consciousness and the people who ought to be leading in this process, the beneficiaries of educational opportunities, are among the worst offenders. A long, hard road lies before us if we are to truly develop that sense of national pride and respect for our own .

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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