Monday, May 14, 2007

Colored People's Time

CPT is an old acronym. It is probably getting to be a little outdated. There is a growing class of black people who are absorbed in the corporate, financial and consultant worlds who don the uniform of that world – golf shirts, Dockers, BMWs and Blueteeth, ample senses of their own importance, Fossil watches and a commendable respect for time. That’s righteous, but culture is what it is. I recently attended a forum on diversity where the expert on culture was explaining the various cultural relationships with time. According to him, in general terms white cultures or western cultures are far more concerned about punctuality than are brown cultures or southern cultures. One of the reasons he gave was that brown cultures place a higher value on social consensus than white cultures do – unilateral action probably doesn’t have its origins in brown people’s lexicons. I loosely interpreted that to mean that white people like to go off and play by themselves, while we like to play in groups. There is nothing novel in any of this or inherently good or bad. It just corroborates the special relationship between colored people and time.

I visited Ghana some time ago and took a ferry on Lake Volta to see the Akosambo Dam. Ironically, the rivers that flow into Lake Volta are the White Volta and the Black Volta. It is up for debate which water shows up for work at the dam on time. The ferry had a schedule posted which said that it would leave at time t = such and such. Time t came leisurely strolling up the clock and continued to stroll right back down. The boat, nearly capsizing under the weight of what seemed like a whole community of people, didn’t move. After waiting for nearly an hour, the captain of the boat ran out from a group of guys politicking on the dock. He was laughing and yelling his last joke to them as he unhitched the boat and got us going.

After we had been underway for about 10 minutes, a smaller speed boat came blazing to catch the ferry. There were three or four women in the boat, each of whom had those enormous crocus sacks that only women from brown parts of the world would carry. I think those bags are correlated with culture too. You only see them with women at check-in counters on flights to South America, the Caribbean or Africa. And the women are always of – shall we say – substance; a different version of woman than Blonde Becky of Abercrombie and Fitch. You really have to have a deep sense of community to even think of carrying a bag that big. Anyhow, the speed boat drove right up alongside the ferry – which, if it slowed down I didn’t notice. Two guys from the speed boat heaved each of the sacks to two other guys on the ferry. Then with the help of a pair of strong arms on both sides, each of the women proceeded to step across from the speed boat to the ferry. It was incredible. Water was splashing up between the two boats and the speed boat was rocking wildly under the shifting weight of the substantive women and the choppy water. While the last woman was still bringing her second foot onto the ferry, the speed boat swerved and turned back.

I asked a fella next to me what the story was. He said that the ferry runs late because they don’t want to leave people who are late. The speed boat picks up people who are late for the late ferry and carries them out to meet it. I joked that the whole system is based on being late. He laughed and said, “Ah!! My American broda, in Africa people are more important than time.”



luvlife0702 said...

as you would say.... "PURE JOKES".

the assumption of your african broda is that 'people' was the reason all those people were late. perhaps they simply slept in. took longer to do their hair. or changed their shirt just one more time, knowing that they could still catch the boat, which would not only be late but should they be later than the late boat they would still be 'on time'.

in contrast, i was about 10 minutes late to a talk i was giving to the African students on my campus (1st generation and foreign students) and i walked into a full room waiting for me to arrive. their time continuum assimilation seemed a little rapid since my 30 years on the north american continent has yet to give me the time estimation skills necessary for punctuality, which in my mind is only necessary for very limited events such as a surprise party.

my students could give you mucho stories of me running in behind them lecturing as i hook up the AV system or hand out papers. i had a sistah colleague who simply said that if you come in after me you're late because that gave them at least 5 minutes grace period. she ain't late because it's her class so she determines the cutoff. love that strategy!

my lateness even put me on terrorist watch since showing up with half hour to go was (not sure if still is) one trigger for full body search. i began to wonder if someone had put a note on my passport that i had a hot body which deserved to be pawed on the regular until i was told by one such searcher why they were searching me. turns out if i would show up earlier the hassles would go away. and by golly, i started showing up earlier for flights and no more full body searches. and my daughter can now walk instead of break 100m records to make it to the gate 'on time'.

lisa said...

You have my punctual, corporate self rolling! i love the idea that CPT is deeper than just being late due to blatant disregard and disrespect for time... it's really about love for our community! the only problem is: it seems that putting people first results in our people being last :-(