Hillary Clinton and Bill De Blasio, mayor of New York City, got in a bit of trouble yesterday because of De Blasio’s joke about “CPT.” For those not in the know, “CPT" is a common joking expression in the Black community. It stands for “Colored People’s Time,” and means “being chronically late.” Here is an example of its use. The first year of our doctoral program in the UMass Afro-American Studies Department, of which I was Graduate Program Director [or GPD] for the first twelve years, as the Graduate School deadline for applications approached, we had received very few applications. I was a nervous wreck, and went about the department fretting. My colleague, John Bracey, a burly Black scholar who had come out of the Chicago branch of CORE [and whose mother was a college professor] was laid back and unconcerned. “Stop worrying, Bob,” he said one day, “they are on CPT.” John was quite right. At the last moment, we received a quite satisfactory pile of applications and chose our first class.
I was also surprised at first to hear my colleagues, all very smart and serious scholars, call one another “nigger” jokingly or refer dismissively to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the high profile and rather self-important Chair of the Harvard Afro-Am Department, as the “HNIC” [or, as it was explained to me, “Head Nigger In Charge.”]
I made the huge mistake of thinking that it was all right for me to speak that way, and when I referred to Gates at the first meeting of an undergraduate course as the HNIC promptly lost half of the students who had signed up.
It is not difficult to understand why de Blasio used the expression. He has been married for twenty-five years or so to a Black woman with whom he has several children. He probably just forgot that things he could say at home might create a problem in the hothouse world of politics.