For those who don’t meet either condition, here is the answer: “Colored People Time.” CP time is a sarcastic but disparaging reference to the stereotype that black folks are always running late. We’ve used it for generations. And it’s usually deployed with a smirk and a dash of “c’mon, man” aggravation at the serial offender.
What has been a big inside joke among African Americans is now the focus of a ginned-up Big Apple controversy. There are far worse things that could have been said that would merit the breathless claims of racism that are needlessly roiling the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Here’s what happened. The annual “Inner Circle” dinner is the annual gathering where the New York City press corps skewers local, state and national politicians and the mayor returns fire with the cast of a Broadway show. This year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton joined the cast of the hit show “Hamilton.”
Clinton: I just have to say, thanks for the endorsement, Bill. Took you long enough.Leslie Odom Jr. of “Hamilton”: Oh, snap!De Blasio: Sorry, Hillary. I was running on “C. P. Time.”Odom: It’s not. I don’t, I don’t like jokes like that.Clinton: “Cautious Politician Time.”Odom: Ah, ok.Clinton: I’ve been there.
The joke bombed because it wasn’t all that funny, which, I can tell you as a veteran attendee of that dinner, is not an unusual occurrence at that dinner. De Blasio’s delivery was off-putting. As New York magazine writer Rembert Browne wrote in a play-by-play of the comedic misfire, “There is no way you’re about to overly enunciate this not-great joke while gesticulating every word as if you’re typing out emoji handclaps.”
What has been missing in all the commentary is context. And it definitely matters in this case. I’ve already dealt with the venue. The “Inner Circle” dinner is a night of raw satire and comedy, a couple of notches lower than a Friars Club roast. Browne’s description of the audience reaction is hilarious.
I thought I wanted to save Bill, until I actually heard him say it, followed by the room releasing a collective “Oh no” sigh. To be clear, the sigh was not an “Oh s–––, Bill went there — that’s my n–––– Bill, he’s got the juice now.” It was definitely more along the lines of “God dammit, white people,” with a pinch of “Oh, so this is how y’all talk about us when we aren’t around.”
This leads to the context of who said “CP time.” The mayor is notoriously late. Not only in his endorsement of Clinton, but also in his official functions as mayor. And then there’s the context of race. The best part of Browne’s commentary is his riff on the racial reaction to the joke.
So what’s the response to this been? It’s been reported very little — probably because most political reporters don’t know what “CP time” is. But the #FeelTheBurn crowd is calling it racist, because if there’s one thing a wildly passionate white Bernie supporter is good at, it’s claiming that a pro-Clinton white is a worse white. And then there’s Team Hillary, who will hope few people notice that she participated in a colored people time joke only weeks after taking the stage at the televised BET Black Girls Rock! show.
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have latched onto this as part of their ongoing attempt to paint the Clintons as thinly veiled racists playing African Americans for suckers. Or as a black friend said to me this morning, “Sanders’s white people are so desperate to get black people riled up, which is exactly the problem with their ‘I know what’s best for you’ paternalism.”
Folks piling on de Blasio conveniently forget something important. “When we aren’t around,” de Blasio is with his wife of 22 years, Chirlane McCray, who is African American, and their two biracial children. And this no doubt explains why the mayor, who told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes he approved the joke, apparently didn’t see anything remotely controversial about it.
I don’t know the de Blasio family, but I can guarantee “CP time” has been uttered more than a few times in that household. How could it not? As the partner of a white Midwesterner, I can’t get exercised about this, especially since he picked up answering every question I pose to him with “yo’ mama” from me. The difference between him and de Blasio is that he’d never say it out loud in mixed company like that.
That’s not to say that there aren’t African Americans put off by de Blasio’s utterance of “CP time.” By the sprinkling of upset on my Twitter feed earlier today you’d have thought hizzoner dropped N-bombs like balloons after a convention speech. Not so, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. One Twitter follower brought it home for me early this morning.
“Are people really that upset about the “CP Time joke? Am I the only person that wasn’t really offended”? asked @JerryFordJR. When I replied no, another Twitter follower drew a bright line in the cultural sand. “No,” tweeted @GParker6, “I wasn’t. Now, had they tried H.N.I.C. …”
Show of hands. How many of you have never ever in your whole entire life heard the phrase “HNIC”? For those of you who know, that means this whole “CP time” nontroversy should come into clearer focus. Had de Blasio let that acronym fall from his lips, he’d deserve every brickbat that would come his way.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj