Missing Their Mark

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 17, 2018

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeDr. Keith Rowley and the PNM came through the Petrotrin debate looking much better than Ancil Roget and the OWTU. Moreover, Rowley’s rationality and levelheadedness triumphed over Roget’s tentativeness and impulsiveness. Initially, I thought Rowley and the PNM would have won the battle and lost the war. I am not sure this prediction still holds. It’s a pity though Roget did not outline his refinery-saving proposal before (Express, September 14).

My neighbor, a shop steward of OWTU, has another view of things. He believes the strike was “partially successful. It was supposed to demonstrate to the political leaders that we need to change how we do things and to remind them that the people are still in charge.” “The union,” he said, “used the day to protest the selling of our national assets to foreigners.”

My neighbor also explained the day of rest and reflection “failed partially” because “the government intimidated the workers.” Inadvertently, he let the cat out of the bag when he said: “The shop stewards received no instructions from the union about what its members were supposed to do on that day. When I called Paramount headquarters for instructions I was told: ‘Use your discretion.'”

The union had not prepared its workers for its day of action. While it castigated the government for its lack of preparedness and sudden action (the government hadn’t informed the union about its plans to close down the refinery), the union itself had not taken care of its business and therein lay its failure.

My neighbor complained that the union had become too political. “A union,” he said, “was supposed to represent the interests of its members. Now it is mired in politics. It should devote 75 percent of its time to labor issues and activities and 25 percent to interacting with government.” The balance, he said, has tipped too much in favor of the latter.

He suggested that this equilibrium was disturbed when Errol McCloud joined the People’s Partnership (PP). “It derailed the union.” When Comrade Roget became disenchanted with the PP and supported the PNM, the pendulum swung a little farther in the political direction.

The union’s immersion into politics made many members lose faith in the union’s efficacy. This lack of faith was deepened further by the commingling of the private and commercial activities of some union leaders that prevent them from devoting their undivided attention to their primary function of representing union members. He believed this commingling of activities presents itself as a conflict of interest.

Just when we thought Comrade Roget and the union had suffered a bad eye (or mal jeaux) in the square of public opinion, Kamla Persad made an unfortunate (not racist) comment about Rowley’s relationship with the one-percenters. She referred to him as an “oreo” (black on the outside but white on the inside) which may have been a tempting but unfortunate caricature of Rowley’s behavior.

Her error lies within what sociologists call “insider privilege” which suggests that someone within a group is free to use a word or a phase that outsiders may see as derogatory but those people within the group may see as endearing or even complimentary.

When a sister from the inner cities of the United States (and I have been teaching African- American Studies for the past fifty years) calls or refers to her lover as “My Nigga” (not “My Nigger”), it is considered a term of endearment.

If a white woman were to call her black lover “My Nigger,” it is something different in its intonation, pronunciation, and meaning. It can be a catastrophic mistake. If she were to do so, she would be digging into a history of words and meanings (such as “the black stud,” the “Mandingo”) into which a white woman is not free to enter.

When a black person uses the term “Nigga,” not “Nigger,” he or she uses it to mean something quite different than a white person as is demonstrated most conspicuously in the Hip Hop genre.

Kamla is an Indian woman. Her transgression lies in her not having the right or the permission to use the term “oreo” regarding a black man which, coming from her, gives it quite a different meaning. She does not have the privilege to use such a term about a black man. Doing so publicly compounds the issue.

Kamla admits that she was guilty of being insensitive although Rowley has since admitted that he serves the one-percenters in his area (Express, September 13), a deliberate misrepresentation of the term. Kamla’s fault lies in the inappropriateness of her use of the word by someone outside the group. Words and phrases in the English language derive their meaning from the context. We have to be careful when we take the liberty of using words outside their given context and what is understood to be the shared meaning within the group.

Roget’s miscalculation and Kamla’s linguistic faux pas may be seen as arrows that over sped their targets. In the future, both need to be careful about their use of words and actions. And while we are at it, it wouldn’t hurt if Roget and Kamla conveyed a sense of regret for any pain or anxieties their words or actions may have caused.

9 thoughts on “Missing Their Mark”

  1. Another interesting article by Selwyn Cudjoe, whether it hits the mark or not is a different thing. In it Cudjoe makes several excuses for the lack of support for the “strike” that seem to miss their mark by a mile. He doesn’t consider that people did not support it because they simply did not agree with the Union’s position. Anyhow what is clear is that the people did not support the day of rest and reflection. As Shah put it, it was more of a day of work and rejection. The more interesting part of the article was Cudjoe’s analysis of Persad-Bissessar’s use of the “oreo” insult. He calls it a misuse of “insider privilege”, which he defines as when “someone within a group is free to use a word or a phase that outsiders may see as derogatory but those people within the group may see as endearing or even complimentary.” He compares it to the use of the word “my nigga”. We are all aware of the way “my nigga” is used, as Cudjoe says it may be endearing or even complimentary. Maybe same as “my coolie” could be endearing. But it seems to me “oreo” is not endearing or complimentary among the black community. It is an insult. What Persad-Bissessar and many other would be leaders of the black community is trying to do is to separate Rowley from the black community. He is a sell out, they say. That is what it means. Many petit wanna-be black leaders peddling some half baked solution for the ills of the society would like to acquire power by cutting down the PNM, the political party that has been representing the national interest from since 1956. So they join forces with that political entity that has been trying to do that from the beginning, whether they call themselves the PDP, the DLP, UNC whatever. So you have to ask yourself who is the sell out? Who is seeking their 30 pieces of silver? Who is the Judas? Who is the real “oreo”?

  2. Well said and on the mark Birdie!!!!
    Dr. Cudjoe seems to carry an anti-Rowley bias in his writings, but is unsure or somewhat reticent on how it will come across, if he were to be open in expressing that bias. Such openness will surely bring out the ire of people like you and me, so he skirts around the issue by trying to be ‘balanced’.

    The Black intelligentsia has always been a failure in the struggle of the black middle-class towards upward mobility.
    They always seems to be between a rock and a hard place when identifying themselves with the black struggle. On one hand, they want to be part of the master class while almost always shying away from identifying with the black liberation.

    1. Yep well said Kian, they all for themselves. Cudjoe is a part time lover, one foot in tnt the other in the US. He has not done anything for black people like you rightly said. Pan Africanist thinking has changed to a great acceptance of the culture in general. I miss the edgy racist Cudjoe same as you bro.

  3. I’m going to keep it real as possible, first, i don’t believe your neighbor is a OWTU shop steward, and two, your take on mr Roget, sure comes across as Anti-OWTU/Roget. I would believe you of all persons would give the true history of the PNM and how they have dealt with the OWTU the last 56yrs, why you don’t tell the people that the PNM have historically termed the OWTU as their only true opposition? the east -west corridor where you are originally domicile have always been anti OWTU, your boys and friends, Critchlow, Tull and the rest were all pro PNM, Dr Cujoe, why don’t you tell us the real reason behind the establishing of the Cipriani labour college, wasn’t it suppose to undermine the OWTU’ progressiveness?, have there ever been a workers/Gov’t wage struggle where the PNM or UNC not try to put public opinion against the OWTU, at times i wonder where or what would have happened to workers in the petro-industry, without the OWTU. The OWTU, have stood the test of time, today, Unions like the OWTU continue to take the brunt of the onslaught that Globalization/ austerism comes with, all the OWTU has is the ability to unite the workers to demand benefits for their labor, employers, Gov’t/ Private sector their aim is to break the Unions bargaining power forcing them to accept austerism wages and in most cases the lost of benefits. The last 30yrs, with the advent of the New World Order, Unions the way we have grown to know them, have been on the back foot, today Dr Rowley and his Gov’t are asking the OWTU for proposals, knowing full well that the OWTU/Unions are always outside looking in. As an opportunist, Kamla presently don’t stand on solid ground, her coalition have evaporated, relegating her back to the communalism that she knows and can bank on, Ms Kamla, is also on the back foot, Dr Rowley’ leadership and style has her picking up the pieces, presently, Ms Kamla is in need of OREOS like Jack,Gypsy and countless others to have a chance in any future elections, her colors reflects who she is and where she stands.

  4. The sale of the national patrimony has begun in earnest behind closed doors. Word is the Sinopec is the one marked to take over Petrotrin. The Chinese do not like unions and are given to slave labour. As the Kings of the East rise as prophesied in the Holy Scriptures, word is they are quietly purchasing oil refineries in Venezuela. Poverty makes strange companions.

    China is a financial powerhouse and has gone to Africa, the Caribbean and in the East bearing gifts of huge low cost loans. The Rowley administration is addicted to money and taxation. They will tax and sell off state assets to the highest or most willing bidder. The PNM is like a huge sinkhole, where money keeps pouring in but everything gets worst in the nation. Example a boat to Tobago has already exceeded the five year lease of the super Galicia by several millions. Yes folks the PNM good at wasting money.

    Under Panday and Kamla no new taxes were introduced, in fact, they got rid of some of the taxes. They placed the nation on a growth trajectory. Building a spanking new airport that has paid for itself, highways, schools, police stations, university etc.
    Rowley working for the 1% has introduced draconian measures and very high taxation. He has not done anything for the poor. Nor has he introduced 1 program to alliveate suffering. He is indeed the Oreo man or black Syrian.

  5. There can be no real and substantive discussion if there is not a presumption of honesty on the part of the writer/author/columnist. Moreover, it seems futile and self-serving to assert a lie and them build a case therefrom. While I respect and admire the knowledge of Brother Bobby you do us both a disserve and cheapen the persuasiveness of your argument when you presume that you know and have the truth and that I am liar. I am not angered by this, I only hope that you could have given to me the same respect that I give your submission in the hope that we can learn from each other.

  6. Never meant to offend Dr Cujoe, if it did come across that way, my apologize to you. The truth as we know it, is never true, as the episode continues to unfold, you Dr Cujoe may have to back track on some of the things said vis-a-vis the Union/Workers. The chair man of petrotrin, says he want to start from scratch, Dr Rowley said 1700 workers, energy minister Mr Khan’ statement says 4700 workers plus their families are facing a very unsecured future, society as a whole, will feel the Economic impact if the numbers are real, i must admit, that i don’t know everything, as there is much to know and learn, that’s our journey in this life. Not to long ago, the Fathers of these today working generation, was given a life line by the policies of Dr Williams, Bp , Shell and Texaco became Petrotrin, History has shown us, that no one has ever become rich having an 8hr job,i’m standing with the Workers, the POOR, on this issue, CLR JAMES , i’m sure will have my back and would have supported the OWTU.

  7. “I am deeply saddened that our citizens still want to stand apart, still want to separate the bundle. When will we stop being East Indian, Chinese, African, Syrian and white? When will we just be Trini? Like you, I pray for that day”. https://newsday.co.tt/2018/09/18/what-natalie-wrote/

    These are the words from the thank you letter to Gary Griffith from Natalie Pollonais after her harrowing experience of being kidnapped and rescued by the TTPS. The time she took to pen this letter identifies the gratitude, sensitivity and acknowledgement that most of T&T is sadly lacking. Imagination is the eye of the soul.

    Dr.Cudjoe it is sometimes difficult to get away from the criticisms of armchair politicians but to encourage you to keep on the balanced perspectives in your writings. T&T is blessed to have yourself and Raffique Shah identify the pointers and have some semblance of quality debates thereafter.

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