Hillary Clinton, Bill De Blasio draw criticism over scripted racial joke

An attempt at humor turned into a gaffe for the two politicians, as the two participated in a skit that some see as insensitive to nonwhites.

David Handschuh/The Inner Circle/AP
Leslie Odum Jr. (l.) from the Broadway musical 'Hamilton,' presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (c.) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (r.) perform at the 94th annual Inner Circle Dinner at the New York Hilton Hotel in Manhattan on Saturday.

"A presidential candidate, a New York mayor, and a black actor walk on stage," has the ingredients for a good joke, but critics didn’t like the punchline Saturday night.

A scripted moment of comedy between presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio during the Inner Circle charity event in New York has caused a social media frenzy with allegations that the joke was racially charged and insensitive to black Americans. 

The gag: Mrs. Clinton took to the stage Saturday night at the Inner Circle charity event where Mayor de Blasio and Leslie Odom Jr., an actor who plays Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical "Hamilton," were performing a skit.

"I just have to say thanks for the endorsement, Bill," Clinton told Mr. de Blasio to a still cheering crowd. "Took you long enough."

"Sorry, Hillary," de Blasio said. "I was running on C.P. time," in an apparent reference to the phrase "colored people time," prompting gasps from the audience. 

"I don't like jokes like that," Mr. Odom said, a black actor who was reportedly in on the joke, to scattered laughter.

Clinton quickly clarified: " 'Cautious politician time.' I've been there."

The backlash: The skit caused a less enthusiastic, but still cheerful response from the audience. In contrast, social media quickly flared with anger, according to Reuters.

Many tweets criticized Clinton and de Blasio of perpetuating negative stereotypes and being insensitive to black Americans.

De Blasio tried to downplay the event in an interview with CNN on Monday, revealing that everyone on stage, including Odom, was in on the joke.

"It was clearly a staged event," he said. "...I think people are missing the point here."

Mayoral aides have likewise told the Associated Press that the joke was intended to be lighthearted, not offensive.

De Blasio is married to Chirlane McCray, who is a communications professional and an African-American. The couple has two biracial children.

Clinton has stayed quiet on the issue so far.

The gag-turned-gaffe comes at a particularly sensitive time for the Clinton campaign. Days before, former president Bill Clinton clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters over his tough-on-crime policies the activists said hurt the black community.

Hillary Clinton has so far benefited from majority support from the black community during primaries. The Democratic presidential candidate will need their continued support to win the New York primary on April 19. As Hillary Clinton’s home state, a loss in New York could cause doubts over her viability in securing the presidential nomination.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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