What would Odlum say?
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.