Tue | May 21, 2019

Beckles caught in the slips

Published:Sunday | May 22, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Sir Hilary Beckles' statement of regret at comparing Chris Gayle to 'Dudus' is, quite frankly, an apology for an apology. No typing error here: the meaning of these two apologies is not at all identical in this context. The first apology is a weak excuse for the second.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives four contradictory definitions of 'apology':

1. The pleading off from a charge or imputation; defence or vindication from accusation or aspersion.

2. Justification, explanation, or excuse

3. A frank acknowledgement, by way of reparation, of offence given, or an explanation that offence was not intended, with expression of regret for any given or taken.

4. A poor substitute.

The history of the word 'apology' reveals how meaning changes over time. It also illustrates the way in which English, the world's most greedy patois, devours words from other languages, sometimes mangling their meaning. As Louise Bennett puts it so mischievously in 'Aunty Roachy Seh', 'Dem shoulda call English language corruption of Norman French an Latin an all dem tarra language what dem seh dat English is derived from.'

The English 'apology' comes from the Greek 'apologia'. Originally, an apology was an act of self-justification. That's the second meaning of the word given in the OED: a defensive speech. By the 18th century, a new meaning of the word evolved: the OED's third definition.

Crude statement

Instead of immediately accepting that he'd erred in making the unfortunate comparison between Gayle and Dudus, Sir Hilary first tried to suggest that it was a matter of 'misunderstanding' and 'misrep-resentation'. Those of us who were angered by his crude statement were suffering from a failure to understand. It's not that we understood and took offence. We were not smart enough to read beneath the surface of his statement and fathom its hidden depth of innocent meaning.

When that ploy failed, Sir Hilary attempted another stroke. He took a crack at an apology. But the ball edged the bat and he got caught in the slips. The knight's apology is not one that commoners would readily accept. It doesn't have quite the right degree of humility.

Sir Hilary's statement of regret appears to be a classic 'apologia' masquerading as an 'apology'. It's a rather elaborate justification of what he said and what he thinks we all misunderstood. Here's a quote that's posted on the website of the Barbados Nation:

"I am satisfied that the parts of my lecture which have caused public concern have been misrep-resented and misunderstood and deductions made which were not obvious to me or intended.

"I am now aware of the anguish these deductions have caused in Jamaica and, in particular, an offending reference, which was not intended in any way to be comparative to anyone. I truly regret this.

"My assessment of leadership as expressed in public images was not intended to produce any negative effect or harm to any cricketer, especially to Mr Chris Gayle, who I consider to be an outstanding West Indies cricketer.

"I offer this statement of regret in all sincerity."

The surprising clause, "I am satisfied," has no business in a genuine apology. What can Sir Hilary's use of the word 'satisfied' possibly mean in this context? 'I've had enough?' 'I'm pleased?' 'I acknowledge the fact that I've made one hell of a mistake?'

Baseless deductions

Sir Hilary's fundamentally unapologetic apologia reproduces the fiction of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and (baseless) deduction. It is the deductions that have caused anguish, not the substance of his own remarks! And if likening Chris Gayle to 'Dudus' 'was not intended in any way to be comparative to anyone', what was the point? Was it a slip of the lip? And, if so, what does this Freudian slip reveal?

C.L.R. James' vintage cultural studies text, 'Beyond a Boundary', published in 1963, gives a brilliant account of the history of West Indies cricket. I'm sure Sir Hilary knows this book intimately. James devotes an entire chapter to the Panamanian-Jamaican batsman George Headley, who isn't even mentioned in the professor's grand genealogy of the fall of West Indies cricket from the Father of the Nation, Sir Frank Worrell, to the degenerate Don, Chris 'Dudus' Gayle.

True, the magisterial Headley wasn't a captain. But he certainly led by example. James reverentially describes the master in the Latinate terms of his Queen's Royal College education: 'nascitur non fit' - born, not made. He elaborates: "This West Indian narrowly escapes being the greatest batsman I have ever seen. Pride of place in my list goes to Bradman, but George is not far behind."

I don't think it's a simple case of anti-Jamaica prejudice that makes Sir Hilary finger Gayle as the bad man of West Indies cricket. It's much more complex. As a member of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), Sir Hilary appears to have internalised the arrogance of rulers who desperately try to keep the ruled under control. And Gayle will have none of that. So he must be a don in the worst possible sense of that word.

In the early years of Spanish conquest of the Americas, the title 'don' unapologetically belonged to the aristocracy, somewhat like a knighthood. These days, a don is, supposedly, a social outcast, though in the case of Dudus, so much political capital was expended to prevent him from being cast out!

Sir Hilary's error of judgement is not only the deliberate comparison of Gayle with Dudus. It is also his failure to recognise that uprooting donmanship in West Indian cricket may just mean wresting power from the aristocratic dons of the WICB and putting it securely in the hands of enterprising players. Cricket is no longer a gentleman's game. It's big business, as Gayle knows all too well.

Carolyn Cooper is an ideator. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com/. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.