Why Bill De Blasio, Hillary Clinton, & White Politicians Should Maybe Avoid "Edgy" Jokes
It was an awkward, agonizing moment when Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio's racially-themed joke hit the air at a charity event on Sunday night. It felt like it was happening in slow-motion, even dragging Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr in Broadway's Hamilton) as the straight-man in this ordeal. From the moments of the New York City's mayor clumsy reference to "CP time" (referring to CPT or "colored people time," an inside joke about lateness used in black communities) to the decidedly unfunny clarification from the presidential candidate (that, no, de Blasio meant "cautious politician time"), it was a total cringe-fest at the Inner Circle Dinner. It left many, including me, wondering who approved Bill de Blasio to drop this joke and why do we continue to expect our politicians to do comedy, too? (Come on, we have actual comedians for a reason!)
On Tuesday, de Blasio dug the hole a bit deeper by telling CNN that people were "missing the point" of the joke, pointing out, again, that the show was scripted. (Oh, no, Bill...) But, when something like this goes down — where two white people in positions of power make a tone-deaf joke or comment that could be insulting — it's important to be thoughtful. Instead of immediately arguing that the people of color who might've been offended "missed the point" or "didn't get it," maybe it's time for to check ourselves before speaking. Or, maybe, just avoid these "edgy" jokes altogether.
When someone in power messes up and marginalized people point it out and examine it (often using their own time, energy and mental/emotional labor to lay it out online), it's a time to reflect on how we, and I include myself as a white person, can do better and be better: It's time to listen.
It might seem kind of counterintuitive on the internet where we spend so much time arguing and defending and analyzing everything but — believe it or not — taking your fingers away from the keyboard, pulling the brakes on that lame "well, actually..." part of your brain and putting all your energy into listening can do wonders for the Democratic trade of ideas. I think you learn pretty quickly after you check your privilege that there's tons of benefits to shutting up and listening: You gain different perspectives, you elevate voices who may be more relevant to the situation than your own and you say significantly less stupid sh*t.
Rembert Browne at New York's Daily Intelligencer described the whole situation as a super lame delivery (the hand gestures! the over-enunciating!) of some unfunny material and touched on the media's initial reactions:
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.
Meanwhile, over at Color Lines, Sameer Rao noted about the "CPT" de Blasio-Clinton controversy that "at press time, [Color Lines] have not seen or heard angry reactions from Black leaders or groups."
I think it would benefit everyone if white people (particularly powerful, political figures) were extra thoughtful of the way their identity and experiences might change the way a joke is received before dropping mediocre humor bombs — because, duh, words matter and our elected officials should be held to a higher standard. But, ultimately, determining whether a race-related joke is offensive or not is not really something white people can or should do. It seems obvious (but that's just because it is).