A comment made by Charleston County School Board member Sandi Engelman about the superintendent on a radio talk show Tuesday sparked a fire storm of criticism from officials and the community.
Engelman, who is running for re-election, said people misunderstood her meaning and that her comment wasn’t racially derogatory.
The controversy started after she called in to “The Morning Buzz” with Richard Todd on WTMA-AM to defend herself from criticism of her taxpayer-financed travel first reported in The Post and Courier. At the end of the nine-minute phone call, Engelman said the district’s superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, wasted money by forcing the district to pay for her missing a flight because she was late and operated on “CPT.”
Most people familiar with the acronym say that means “Colored People Time,” but Engelman said that’s not what she meant.
“Let me tell you one quick thing before you go,” Engelman said on show. “It’s also from the flight to Chicago, the superintendent was on her usual ‘CPT,’ missed her flight, came in and booked a first-class flight for hubby, daughter and herself.”
Engelman said she’s offended that people put words in her mouth and that she never said “Colored People Time.” Engelman said she intended for “CPT” to mean “Certain People Time,” which she said referred to influential people who are continually late.
Marvin Dulaney, executive director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and associate professor at the College of Charleston, laughed when he heard Engelman’s explanation and said there was no such thing as “Certain People Time.” The phrase “Colored People Time” can be traced back in literature to the 1920s and in works by Langston Hughes. The expression references a stereotype that black people are always late, Dulaney said.
Goodloe-Johnson didn’t buy Engelman’s explanation for “CPT,” either. She denied Engelman’s contention that she missed her flight and booked another on the district’s dime for her family. Goodloe-Johnson said she thought it was sad that Engelman would think it’s OK to make false and racist statements against the head of any organization.
School board Chairwoman Nancy Cook said Engelman had gone too far, and that a majority of board members shared Cook’s perspective. All three of Engelman’s challengers in the Nov. 7 election also condemned her statement.
Engelman said she thought the incident would help her in the race because voters were sick of people such as Goodloe-Johnson playing the race card. Engelman denied being a racist and said she opposes the superintendent for her poor business practices.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, countered that Engelman has a problem with a black woman leading the district, and there’s no excuse for what she said. Elected officials should be held to a higher standard, and Engelman insulted some people she’s supposed to represent, Scott said.
Arthur Ravenel Jr., who is running for an East Cooper seat on the board, caught flack 16 years ago when he was in Congress and made a comment about white committee chairmen who operated on “black time,” which he said meant fashionably late. He equated Engelman’s “CPT” comment to be the modern-day version of that expression and said he didn’t think it was meant to be derogatory.