The Ghetto Time Warp

Spend time in or near the ghetto, and you can’t help but notice some things. When you live and work across the social spectrum, you get a daily dose of comparisons, which makes noticing things easy. It is a dangerous game these days, of course. On the other hand, people get in trouble in the ghetto when they don’t notice things. Modern times is full of these weird, inexplicable juxtapositions.

White people know to avoid certain areas, even certain streets. Give a white person directions that include Martin Luther King Boulevard or Malcom X Avenue and they ask someone else for directions. They know those names are never used for places that house people like them. On the other hand, make a comment about it around them and they will harangue you about your racism and narrow mindedness.

I do not suffer from this malady, despite being white. I’ve learned to speak three languages: SWPL, normal and ghetto. I’m most fluent at normal because I try to hang around normal people as much as possible. On the other hand, living on the edge of the ghetto, I have picked up the tongue, which is mostly what normal people said before the lunatics took over. Watch any old 1970’s TV show and you get my meaning.

The other day I was on the way home and remembered I needed cat food. On the edge of the ghetto is a Food Lion, which seems to target the lower classes as a business strategy. They have a big sign announcing they accept EBT and WIC. I’ve stopped there many times, but rarely after work. In my work clothes, I stand out like a sore thumb. Social class is one of those things people notice instinctively, even though we pretend it does not exist. In jeans and a tee-shirt, it is not so obvious.

I get my cat food and get in line. I was in a hurry, being the end of the day, but I should have known better. In the ghetto, time works differently than everywhere else. The employees of the Food Lion are mostly black. They work on CPT. That’s Colored People Time. Start talking about CPT at your place of work and they fire you. Mention it around black people and they laugh, surprised that a white person would know the term and bother say it in public.

What CPT means is not just slowness. It is also a certain deliberate tardiness. Black people will tell you that black people are always late. That’s when you’re most likely to hear them break out the term CPT. The lateness is not meant as disrespect or even something done on purpose. Blacks have complicated lives and events just get away from them. As a result, they struggle to be on time for anything. At the same time, they are not in a great hurry to get anything done.

The two cashiers working that evening were chatting with one another, hardly paying attention to their work, which they were doing at a snail’s pace. The customer in front of me had a mislabeled product so the girl just stopped working and waited for a manager to solve the problem. It’s not laziness or attitude. The two girls were just working at a pace based on their own weird internal metronome. That’s CPT. Things just take the time they take and no one thinks much of it.

For reasons I’ve never understood, the deli counter at this Food Lion is manned by Latino males. They are a beehive of activity, but you still wait in line for an hour to get even the smallest thing. Standing there in line, I watched four or five Latinos buzzing around in a flurry of activity. There was one lonely customer patiently waiting for whatever he ordered. He was still there when I left, which is not surprising. he was experiencing something called the Latin Way.

The Latin Way is a term you hear from Latinos. Like CPT, they are surprised to hear a blanco say it. Unlike blacks, Latinos are oddly proud of it and quite open to talking about it if you ask them. They fully admit that the disorganized chaos is just the way they do things, even though it makes no sense. It’s like how the Irish are proud of being alcoholics. Or Italians proud of their gestures. It’s a part of what makes them who they are and they are mostly proud of it.

Unlike CPT, I find the Latin Way to be rather amusing. I guess it pleases my Anglo-Saxon sensibilities to see people rushing about trying to get their work done, even if they are mostly spinning their wheels. They may not be getting things done, but they seem to care about getting things done. Blacks don’t get anything done and they seem to take pride in their idleness. Latins seem to know they should be getting something done, which counts for a lot while you are waiting.

While I’m cataloging the denizens of the ghetto in this way, Hindus are an interesting case. We have a lot of them around here for some reason. My guess is they work at the engineering firms located in the suburbs. I’ve had some Hindus work for me over the years and they move at their own pace too. maybe those old school observations about people close to the equator are true after all

Judging from what I see around town, I’m thinking it is cultural. In the Food Lion, I always see the old women wandering around in their brightly colored saris. They never seem to buy anything, but they are fat as hell so I know they’re not skipping any meals, but I just see them looking. Then again, I don’t feel the need to watch them as much as the other denizens of the ghetto.

Anyway, the whites are not models of Anglo-Saxon efficiency and alacrity. The difference is when motivated, they move as fast and efficiently as anyone else. It’s just that they never seem to be motivated. On summer afternoons they sit on their front step or loiter in the parking lots. Poor people of all types are happy to while away their time doing nothing but chatting with friends.

Smoking is still popular in the great white ghetto, along with Oxycontin. You see the fat girls waddling behind strollers, while the males sit around shirtless. The idea is to show off the collection of ridiculous tattoos they love so much. Nothing tells the world you are a violent felon like a neck tattoo. In all of the retail stores on the edge of the ghetto, you never see whites working.

That’s the thing about poverty and the underclass. SWPL types think it is education, but it is time that keeps people in the ghetto. They have no sense of it. Middle and upper class people are obsessed with time. Being on time is an essential part of being a respectable person. The efficient use of time is how one is measured in their job. If you’re good at what you do, you get an assistant at work to help you make the most of your time. The rich have personal assistants to make sure no one wastes their time.

Like father’s day, I doubt watches are of much use in the ghetto. When you have no place to go and no reason to get there, knowing the time is pointless. People I know who hire entry level labor tell me the biggest challenge they have is figuring out how to tell ghetto types how to show up on time and work at a decent pace. That’s why they hire Latinos. They may be a circus of disorder without supervision, but they show up on time and at least look like they are in a hurry.

Anyway, I think that’s the dividing line in modern life. The great class line is is time preference. Conventional wisdom says the poor lack impulse control. They buy cheap crap now rather than save for better things later. They don’t understand the value of putting off today’s pleasure for something better tomorrow.

I don’t think that’s right. I think it is the lack of time preference. The middle class person understands how to comprehend the discount function, at least conceptually. The poor have no idea about any of this. A bag of weed today is just a bag of weed today. Saving for a bigger bag of weed tomorrow is inconceivable because tomorrow may as well be next century.

15 thoughts on “The Ghetto Time Warp

  1. Pingback: Buying Drugs in the Ghetto at The Z Blog

  2. It’s not even cpt, it’s “i got the job, now I dare you to fire me” that gets me the most upset with a lot of the blacks I work with.

    Sense of entitlement is a pretty big impediment to being productive.

    • Agree.Some say it’s not attitude, but it is. Black students revel in coming late to class, with much “hi, are ya,” “sup?” “hey man” to others on their way to their seat. Suits the histrionic side of them, and is I “I’ll come when I’m good and ready” to teachers,
      . esp white ones.Also, if the teacher mentions it, it gives them a chance to look fake-bewildered, grin at a classmate and “joke,” “That bitch gettin’ on me all the time.”

  3. Pingback: ZION'S TRUMPET » SWPL, Mokita, CPT, and Other Ghetto Observations

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  5. I think you hit on the important point when you say “they got nowhere to go and all day to get there.” That’s why they don’t care about time. They’ve got shitloads of time, all the hours of the day for the whole long government-sponsored life ahead of them. Who gives two shits if they have to wait an extra five minutes for their Subway sandwich? What, they got a quality team meeting coming up? They’re out eating because it’s something different, and standing around the store is still “something different”.

  6. Oh yeah,
    Where does the accent go?
    Is “tacit” a reasonable translation, or is mokita ALWAYS about “something deemed unflattering to say by some”?
    The wiki link wasn’t too helpful here.

  7. SWPL ” If you’re good at what you do, you get an assistant at work to help you make the most of your time.”?
    Funny, I was so good I didn’t NEED help, except on really big, or “It just takes two to move it” projects. I HAVE noticed some women who supplant a male in certain “management” positions suddenly discover “It’s too much for one person”. AND with a higher wage, get an “assistant” (or “associate”, usually a friend) to do all that trivial stuff.
    SWPL, “Bohemian”? MY WASP (Episcopalian) ancestors used the term Bohemian in lieu of “gauche”. It doesn’t imply cool OR edgy. Regional colloquialism I suppose.

  8. re: “Anyway, I think that’s the dividing line in modern life. The great class line is is time preference. Conventional wisdom says the poor lack impulse control. They buy cheap crap now rather than save for better things later. They don’t understand the value of putting off today’s pleasure for something better tomorrow.

    I don’t think that’s right. I think it is the lack of time preference.” thezman

    You have struck gold but Edward C. Banfield wrote about it nearly a half century ago. If you haven’t heard of him before you owe it to yourself to read his book The Unheavenly City Revisited, 1974, which is the revised 1970 book titled The Unheavenly City. Time preference is Banfield’s analytical instrument used to delineate his five classes in society. It is a book well worth reading.

    Dan Kurt

    • Thanks for the tip. I don’t recall having read him. Just goes to show that there are no new ideas.

  9. I have worked, and work still, with entry level Mexicans and middle class blacks. In my experience CPT has has by no means abandoned that middle class, which demonstrates your cockeyed optimism.

  10. Discount function, delayed gratification, whatever you want to call it, IME this is a central feature of all poverty.

    You could give a loser an honest-to-God ‘get out of jail free’ card and rather than save it pending the outcome of his upcoming murder trial he’ll use it to shorten his current two-week stint for failure to pay child support.

    Even after the lifer bars slam behind him he still wont understand what he screwed up.

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