I was at a meeting the other day and I heard the phrase — “He’s running on CPT” — to describe someone who was late for the meeting.  A few people uncomfortably chuckled.

Most of us sat in silence as we tried to comprehend if we actually heard what we just thought we heard. The person being described as “running on CPT” was not Black.

I had not heard that phrase for over a decade and I had no idea it was still being employed — either equally or unequally.

If you haven’t heard that phrase before, “CPT” means “Colored People’s Time” and it is used to describe someone — historically someone Black — who is always running late and has no sense of time nor of the need to be on time. Is “CPT” still used and felt as an insult or has it been used so often and for so long it has lost its racial sting and is now merely trite and unfunny?

26 Comments

  1. Ive never heard this expression in California. I agree with Dave that it is offensive. It can be problematic when a shortened version or acronym of an blatantly racist or offensive term is used. The term ‘CPT’ seems perfectly innocuous untl the expanded version and its apparent meaning are revealed. In your experience how is it used and what exactly does it mean? An expression that I hear frequently is ‘he(she) is in their own world’. Couldn’t this be used similarly to ‘running on CPT’?

  2. Hi Jonathan!
    It’s interesting you’ve never heard that phrase in California. If you have any Black associates or friends who you feel comfortable around asking… for me… I am curious to know if they’ve heard or used the phrase….
    Yes, the phrase is usually shortened to just “CPT” and voiced under the breath with a wink as the person strolls in late to the meeting.
    The phrase is used as a “laughing way” to tell a person directly or indirectly – but never a White person directly to a Black or dark-skinned person’s face — they are late.
    Others might add the phrase also means you are “behaving below your Race” and that really is the crux of the passive-aggressive insult.
    “Running on CPT” means you are never on time. It doesn’t necessarily mean lazy — it means you don’t watch the clock and you don’t care about the clock and you’ll show up when you feel like showing up. I don’t think I’ve heard it used to mean someone is off in their own world.

  3. I have never heard that term either, and it’s unacceptable. Personally, if faced with it, I would speak up. Whether the meeting was formal or informal is irrelevant and I’m surprised no one said a damn word. Pathetic.

  4. I agree with you, Dave! It had been a long while since I’d heard that phrase used so overtly and with such a bubbling anger repressed by a semi-smile. I thought maybe I’d missed some kind of counter-culture revolution or something.
    I still hear people say “Jew ’em down” and “Gypped” all the time as if those phrases have no historical context against Jews and Gypsies.

  5. This was an unacceptable comment, but I understand where Dave is coming from that the meeting was not the time to address it. The person who said the comment should be reprimanded privately and then disciplined publicly only when the offense is repeated.

  6. I’ve never heard of that term, and have never heard it being used. So, if someone had used it in front of me, I’d have had no clue what it meant. However, I find it very offensive. There are many places where this term would still be in use, particularly in the South of the States. A friend of mine lives in Alabama, and there you can’t even admit to having a black partner if you’re white because racism is still so strong. My friend even told me that the KKK was still big there too. I had no idea beforehand just how bad things were in that part of the States. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  7. I mean that you and I are different, in that, I would not sit in silence. Maybe you believe it spoke volumes, but I see it as acceptance. Of course, I wasn’t there, but if I had been, I would have said something. This world is full of people who have sacrified social awareness, and for what?
    Ignorance comes in many forms, David.

  8. Hi Dawn —
    You are right about racism still being a problem in the United States.
    When I grew up in Nebraska “race mixing” — as it was called back then — was verboten and if attempted usually ended up in some kind of physical violence. I’m not sure how far we’ve come since then.

  9. We certainly have different perceptions on how the situation was handled, Karen, but no one “sat in silence.”
    No one “accepted” anything.
    No one “sacrified social awareness” and I do not accept your continued — and seemingly purposeful — mischaracterization of what happened.
    You can speak without speaking.
    You can make a sharp point with something other than the business end of a knife.
    You can be obvious while being subtle.

  10. “A few people uncomfortably chuckled.”
    “Most of us sat in silence…”
    Uh huh.
    You can choose to not accept my (definitely) purposeful view on what happened. What you cannot do is turn it around to make yourself look good, because what’s done is done. What you can do is speak up next time. The only way to stop these snide and hurtful comments toward peoples of any race is to call the offenders on it.
    There was no mention of sharp stares until now, but I love how the story is evolving. Too bad some of the human race doesn’t seem to be.

  11. I was addressing your purposeful skewing of what happened by quoting back your inaccuracies.
    This particular vein of the conversation has found its end in continued repetition and so we’re finished. There’s nothing left for us to say to each other. We’re over.

  12. You’re just angry because you didn’t do anything about the racist’s comment, and I’m the only one calling you on it. Your minions have said nothing to contradict your (lack of) behaviour. I don’t see where I skewed a damn thing. If anything, your original post says you sat in silence, then later you say you didn’t – instead a look was exchanged, the silence spoke for itself. Which is it?
    Either way, whatever happened, the original comment by the racist was unacceptable, and the silence, however implied, was NOT enough. Racism hurts people. How hard is it to stop racists in their tracks by telling them they are wrong? STAND UP FOR SOMETHING.
    It’s easy for you to say “We’re over.” That’s how you dealt with the racism. Obviously confrontation is not your strong point.

  13. Sometimes silence can be just as effective as shouting at someone.
    In a business context, silence might work better at correcting someones behavior, rather than entering into a heated battle or words that might not lead to anything constructive.
    In the future, business decisions can be made with the person’s past behavior and comment in mind. Business could be sent to other independent contractors. Silence and withdrawal of business opportunities is more of a punishment than verbal sparring.
    Most times, it is better to use the least amount of force or pressure that is needed to achieve the desired results.
    Speaking of Gypsies, there was the infamous “caught on videotape” incident where a woman Irish Traveller was arrested for child abuse. The case brought unwanted attention to a group that remains on the fringes of American society.

  14. Hi Chris!
    Yes. That’s how it works in the business world of the “maybe” and the “we’ll see.” Relationships are new and teetering. Everyone is trying to find a voice and a role without infringing upon the psychic space of another.
    We were all there as independent contractors under the umbrella of a larger corporation. Any kind of verbal “correction” by any of us would have brought the wrong kind of attention to the speaker of the phrase and also to the boss who was the object of the rub. That’s a total lose/lose proposition.
    The phrase is always offered in a veiled kidding around — that’s where it’s sting and power comes from in the ensuing laughter — so to not meet the social expectation by not laughing – and without starting a verbal confrontation — was absolutely the best path for behavior correction without making a scene… all as you so rightly suggested.
    Ah! Your links to the “Irish Traveler” are quite fascinating, thanks!

  15. By reading all the posts on ‘CPT’, one mite (logically?) infer some of you would be antagonistic towards most any historical phrase, saw, bromide, proverb, or cliche in common usage.
    Personally I have engaged with Jews, Gypsies, Peddlars, Negroes, Colored People, Black People, Brown People, People of Color, and a host of others in many lands. I have opinions and ideas based on those experiences and relationships.
    I have dealt with Jews who are certainly endowed with great ‘business acumen’ to say the least.
    I watched my Grandma deal with Gypsies who engaged in many business practices we believe unethical. The Gypsies didnt think so. Did they gyp, swindle, or otherwise fraudulently gain an advantage? You betcha!
    The dictionary says:
    ‘Gyp’ is to “…swindle, cheat, or defraud…”, presumably by overcharging for or overvaluing mdse.
    ‘Swindle’ is to “…defraud or cheat of money or property, to obtain by fraud…”;
    ‘Fraud’ is to “…practice a deliberate deception to gain unfair or unlawful gain…”;
    I dont think I’ve made a purchase in the last 50 years that couldnt fall in one of the above categories. The entire scenario is best covered by: Caveat Emptor–Let The Buyer Beware!
    If I sell something to you, you buy that thing from me. As the seller I MUST believe I have gotten the best of you, and as the buyer you MUST think you have taken advantage of a great opportunity, or there’s no exchange, no contract, no business transaction. The deal’s off.
    In using the above I dont think I stray too far from the issue of offending the Gypsy by using the word Gyp. It was–is?–a way of life for the Gypsie.
    As for the phrase “CPT” which you infer infer relates to a lack of concern for clocks, appointments, chronological timeliness, &c., or as you stated in your post:
    ,
    I cant imagine it being a slur, slander, or insult to African-Americans (so-called), since the very label ‘African’ refers to a land and culture that: had no clocks, no sense of time nor a need to be on time;
    nor, mite I add, any concept or regret of insulting, inconveniencing, or otherwise culturally challenging other people.
    I fail to see the insult of using a cultural descriptive to refer to those who choose to use that and other cultural examples to describe their chosen lifestyle.
    That, friends, smacks of Historical Revisionism, non? An example is the accepted PC trend to replace ‘Negro’ or ‘colored person’ with the term African-American. We now see the ‘pony soldiers’ of the civil war time being African Americans. And the squadrons or companies of soldiers in WWII were all “African-Americans.
    I fear we go to the other extreme in doing this. We dont know that those Negroes of 50 or 100 years age would want to be called African Americans, or even Blacks. I know MANY people today who DO NOT want to be called Black, cause they aint. Mostly they’re brown.
    Rev Jesse Lee Peterson (the OTHER Rev Jesse!, he claims) in his book SCAM, How The Black Leadership Exploits Black America, states:
    “…blacks should also reject the term “African-American”. We’re not “Africans”; we’re Americans who happen to be black. Blacks need to get over the habit of romanticizing Africa as their homeland. Most blacks have never been to Africa and never will…Africa is a continent of dictators, oppression, bloodshed, famine, and a horrific AIDS epidemic…the very antithesis of what America stands for”.
    Rev Jesse also says:
    “…many black business professionals in the Los Angeles area…cant find many black men who are willing to work. If they do find them these men have such rotten attitudes on the job that they eventually get fired.
    THEY DONT SHOW UP ON TIME…”
    Thanks for dialoguing!
    kenn 1RmSchlHse
    10 maY2006 AD

  16. I like your point about the title of African-American. I sometimes tell people I’m Europeon-American, instead of white. The looks I get are crazy! I’ve never been to Europe and, although my husband is Hispanic, he’s never been south of the border. I mean, he grew up in Wyoming for goodness sake! I do know an honest-to-goodness African American: She was born and raised in Nigeria and moved here when she was in her 30’s. Why is race such a touchy subject? Can’t we embrace the diversity of cultures and appearances? That’s what America’s all about. I really like DC Talk’s song, “Colored People.” They talk about the different skin tones being God’s kaleidoscope. I think that’s a fantastic word image!