THE BLOG

Black History Month: An Explanation of CP Time by Your Very Delayed Guest Book Editor

04/25/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Considering that this is my first official blog post of my guest book editorship since the introduction, my first Black History Month lesson will be a brief primer on "CP Time."

Also known as "colored people's time," CP Time is an inside reference within the black community on the tendency of black folk to show up late for just about anything. Other ethnic groups have their own versions. I've heard of "India Standard Time" as well as the the more specific "Africa Time." I imagine White People Time is when one shows up early and reserves the most precious resources for oneself. I kid, people. I kid.

Black World cover December 1972 This is not just me attempting to blame my people for my lateness, though if my name were Kanye West, I would say "You should be honored by my lateness" and carry on as if nothing were amiss. Still, there is a relevant literary connection. In addition to appearing in the works of Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison, there's a lengthy explanation of CP Time in the December 1972 edition of Black World magazine. (BTW, Black World was published under the name Negro Digest from November 1942 - Oct 1969 and continued under its new name until April 1976). Black World/Negro Digest were created by Johnson Publishing, which still brings us Ebony and Jet today, and the full archive of the discontinued magazines is available in Google Books.

In an essay titled, "Ellison, Gordone and Tolson: Some Notes on the Blues, Style and Space," Ronald Walcott opens with "The Prologue of [Ralph Ellison's] Invisible Man is, among other things, a discourse on time and space; on, that is, the Black awareness of time as space."

Later in the essay, Walcott expands on the relation of art forms to the cultural climate of the day with this extended explanation of CP Time:

Black people always seem to be late and, in fact, have been late so often and so predictably that they themselves have coined a term for it: CP Time, Colored People's Time. CP time is usually spoken of in tones of the profoundest dismay (by Blacks who lament their brothers' "irresponsibility that will hold us all back") or of outraged complacency (by whites who see this habitual lateness as yet further instance of our don't-give-a-damn-attitude, "but really, what can you expect?") or of amused tolerance (by the rest of us who are so accustomed to it we hardly notice it."

CP Time actually is an example of Black people's effort to evade, frustrate and ridicule the value-reinforcing strictures of punctuality that so well serve this coldly impersonal technological society.

Yes, that's exactly what I've been doing these past few weeks! I've simply been ridiculing the strictures that serve a cold and impersonal technological society. I'm not late. I'm a rebel!

Now, on to some books!

In my first message, I cast a wide net for recommendations, so most of today's list comes to you courtesy of you.

Not surprisingly, the first on the list is one I've already referenced.

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. Karla Ovalle sent this in. She's also my intern and pretty awesome at things involving words. She wrote: "I love the way Ellison juxtaposes the main character's "Booker T bootstraps" existence with stereotyped images. His feelings of invisibility feel jarring at first, then almost comforting as the main character embraces it." I'm going to add that this book is part of the foundational collection of Black literature. You really must read it. Must.

If Ellison falls into the near-classic department of books that deal directly with race, this next recommendation is contemporary and indirect.

The Time Of Our Singing, by Richard Powers. Two people recommended this. On Twitter, Emmet Williams wrote that this book "portrays U.S. race relations like no other book I've read." The book recommendation was seconded on Huffington Post by edwthree.

And now I want to send us back again, to the beginning of Blacks in America: the slave narrative.

Women's Slave Narratives, by Annie L. Burton, Lucy Ann Delaney, and Kate Drumgoold. This book was recommended by rikyrah, a contributor at Jack & Jill Politics.

There are many more recommendations on the way, and I'll probably post something every day now to make up for my extensive lesson in CP Time. Thanks for tuning in. As a reminder, please leave your own recommendations in the comments or post them to Twitter under the #AfAmBooks hashtag.

YOU MAY LIKE