Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, and Hillary Clinton, made a mistake. They had a skit that involved Hillary asking why it took so long for de Blasio to endorse her, and he invoked a racially charged term, that she defused. The comedic timing could have worked with different “actors” and in a different setting, but it fell flat there, and raised lots of eyebrows. I am bothered by what he did, but not because I think he’s a racist, or that the joke was racist, but because I think he betrayed a trust. The video is here, and Clinton joins the act around 7:45. The attempt at the joke starts at 8:30.
For anybody who hasn’t read the story about this, Clinton jabs de Blasio for taking so long to endorse her, and he says that he was running on “CP time.” This is a term I hadn’t heard before, but now know that it means “colored people time” and apparently used with reasonable frequency in the African American community. One commentator discussing the term called it an “inside joke.” The act was supposed to make people think de Blasio was spewing something racist, for a brief moment, until Clinton clears it up by saying it means “cautious politician” time.
First of all, the biggest problem is that it wasn’t funny. It was awkward and not in a good way, mostly because people listening either do not know what the term means or don’t know that de Blasio knows what the term means. I imagine it could have been funny, but it wasn’t.
Here’s why the joke upsets me: de Blasio is married to an African American woman and has mixed-race children. I think it’s fair to say that he feels like an insider, but he isn’t, and never can be. That doesn’t make him a bad person, but it does make him a person who will never experience what it is like to be black in America. I will never experience that either. No matter how many black friends I have, no matter how much time I spend in the black community, no matter how close I am, I will never be a real insider. If that term, CP time, is an inside joke (and I don’t know, I’m just going by what the commentator said), then it wasn’t de Blasio’s right to out it. The error is that he misjudged his insiderness, which may feel solid at home, but just isn’t there in the public view.
Do I think he’s a racist? No, not at all. Does the joke offend me in the way that racism offends me? No, not at all. Do I have the right to tell others that they shouldn’t be offended by it? Of course not.
Now here’s the more interesting question: Would I have been offended if Donald Trump made the same joke? Honestly, I don’t know, but it’s more likely that I would have been, so what’s the difference? First of all, Trump isn’t a member of an African American family, so there’s really no excuse for him mistaking his insiderness like there is for de Blasio. Second, Trump has a history of making sweeping comments about minority groups that paint those groups in a negative light (without any hint that he is joking).
In the end, it wasn’t, in my opinion, an instance of him revealing the racism that he hid from the public, and I don’t think it was a racist joke, but I do think it was mistake.