What would Od­lum say?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie

What would those who think they knew Ge­orge Od­lum the politi­cian, say, if a poll­ster asked them about Od­lum’s views on repa­ra­tions? Frankly, it may not be fair to pose this ques­tion even to those who boast how well they re­mem­ber the politi­cian. But hav­ing asked, I of­fer some tips to as­sist those who would re­ply. Note first, that the ques­tion asked, ‘what would Od­lum say, not what would Od­lum think?’ Then con­sider the help young Od­lum re­ceived from white folks in Eng­land dur­ing his early chal­lenges study­ing in that coun­try. Later, Od­lum was never shy to in­vite white folks (for­eign), into his home dur­ing se­ri­ous in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions. Not many in there were happy but later they would whis­per their an­noy­ance to me, rather than com­plain to Od­lum per­son­ally.

Also con­sider this: the lawyer and ac­tivist Prim­rose Bled­man and Ge­orge Od­lum were the best of friends. In Eng­land they spent many hours in each other’s com­pany. It was there­fore no sur­prise when Frances Michel and I ac­com­pa­nied Od­lum in the early Seven­ties to the Bri­tish Labour Party con­fer­ence in Brighton, Eng­land. We stayed at home of Picky Bled­man (wife of Prim­rose), in Fi­ley Av­enue, NE Lon­don. One evening over drinks Picky told Frances and me a joke:

Ge­orge had newly ar­rived in Lon­don and Picky was tak­ing him around, walk­ing show­ing him the bus and train routes. As Picky told it, when­ever Ge­orge en­coun­tered a black man he be­lieved to be African he would tug at her hand and say ‘Picky, spook! Spook, Picky! Spook!’ Picky ex­plained the pe­jo­ra­tive was used by the Eng­lish among them­selves, usu­ally whis­pered, sel­dom out loud.

Of course to Eng­lish eyes there was no dif­fer­ence between Ge­orge and Africans, even though Ge­orge seemed un­aware of this. Picky was white, born and raised in the North African for­mer French colony of Al­ge­ria—un­til she moved to Eng­land to study. Picky never shared with Frances and me how the po­lit­i­cally savvy Od­lum (per­haps he was still in search of pol­i­tics) got over that part of his colo­nial ed­u­ca­tion that in­sulted of his African broth­ers. The more ed­u­cated Eng­lish pop­u­la­tion may still be di­vided on the is­sue of race, which makes the ques­tion on repa­ra­tions more in­ter­est­ing.

The other mat­ter which may give some in­di­ca­tion of what Od­lum might have said on the mat­ter of repa­ra­tions is to be mea­sured from his al­ways bal­anced re­sponse to po­lit­i­cal ques­tions. Ques­tioned on the sub­ject of repa­ra­tions he would more likely an­swer with his own ques­tion. His de­bat­ing skills would per­suade him to ask whether the white man suf­fered any psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age or was in any other way harmed by slav­ery. Learn­ing to ex­am­ine a sub­ject from all sides was the way so­phis­ti­cated in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing taught their stu­dents to think. Such an ap­proach to prob­lem solv­ing and anal­y­sis is still the pre­ferred way of self re­spect­ing ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. It was the path in­cul­cated in Log­ics, Phi­los­o­phy and Pol­i­tics, all of which Od­lum read at Ox­ford Univer­sity.

The ef­fects of slav­ery on white folks are cer­tainly wor­thy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion, if only to broaden the think­ing on repa­ra­tions. And that’s the rea­son Od­lum would pose the ques­tion. It is a ques­tion which folks who are pro­mot­ing repa­ra­tions among this coun­try’s se­nior school chil­dren should ask, or be en­cour­aged to ask, to help broaden the un­der­stand­ing and as­sist stu­dents to think and an­a­lyze cor­rectly.

The re­al­ity is that those Car­ib­bean brethren pro­mot­ing repa­ra­tions must an­tic­i­pate what re­sponse their ad­ver­saries (slave trad­ing coun­tries and slave own­ers) would re­ply to a de­mand for repa­ra­tions. If they were to ac­cept that some form of repa­ra­tions may be ap­pro­pri­ate, would they ask those mak­ing the de­mand to also seek repa­ra­tions from those black African coun­tries and lead­ers who cap­tured and sold other Africans into slav­ery? Is this an ap­proach Ge­orge Od­lum might’ve rec­om­mended?

The ques­tion on repa­ra­tions and what Ge­orge Od­lum would say would make for in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sion among those who say Od­lum was all pol­i­tics and pol­i­tics, all Ge­orge. They ought to be able to turn their minds to what would Od­lum say about repa­ra­tions with­out clut­ter­ing their an­swers with im­be­cilic state­ments, im­port­ing the sa­cred name of Ju­das, or un­in­formed ref­er­ences to a ve­hi­cle’s PA 1 li­cense, what the let­ters stood for and other such non­sense. By the way, no­tice care­fully the words Ge­orge Od­lum used when he said: ‘The peo­ple have been de­ceived for too long; if any other politi­cians de­ceive them again they de­serve to be hanged in Colum­bus square.’ I have never re­peated these words. They sounded hol­low and in­sin­cere com­ing from a man who would not kill a lizard, but in­stead per­suade oth­ers to kill it for him!

I was there­fore dis­ap­pointed that in my last week­end ar­ti­cle in the cap­tioned ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ the posted Face­book pic­ture of Allen Chas­tanet spoke of ‘the peo­ple be­ing fooled again by politi­cians.’ My ar­ti­cle was not meant to sug­gest that Prime Min­is­ter Chas­tanet will de­ceive the peo­ple. That was the fur­thest thing from my mind. Po­lit­i­cal de­ceit is to prom­ise what one knows can­not be de­liv­ered. Allen Chas­tanet has not done any such thing.

An­other rea­son I re­frain from us­ing Od­lum’s re­marks about hang­ing in Colum­bus Square is due to my own strug­gles with the death penalty. I shall com­ment no more on this, for now. And with the nee­dle mea­sur­ing Saint Lu­cia’s il­lit­er­acy rate be­ing stuck in the red dan­ger zone, who will de­cide who is de­ceiv­ing whom, and when should the de­ceiver be hanged on Colum­bus Square?

Fi­nally, who will tell the kan­ga­roo court of non­de­ceivers judg­ing the de­ceivers, that there is no longer an en­tity named Colum­bus Square? Who is there among its non-po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and jour­nal­ists to point the peo­ple to the politi­cians who are de­ceiv­ing them? Who shall cast the first stone? And what would Od­lum say to that and to the ques­tion on repa­ra­tions?

The au­thor served as agri­cul­ture min­is­ter and for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter with Labour and UWP ad­min­is­tra­tions.

The names Ge­orge Od­lum and Peter Josie will for­ever be po­lit­i­cally linked.

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