It's easy to look at Sen. McCain begging off a handshake from Sen. Barack Obama and just see a white guy dissing a black guy. But I wouldn't get Al and Jesse on the BlackPhone just yet—I think that whole thing is a sight more complicated than prejudice and politics. I'm (arguably) as much a race man as anyone, but real men everywhere know McCain's in clear violation of the man code. Let me explain.
For me and most of the men I know, the handshake is as good as gold: It's a bond that seals a covenant of honor and mutual respect. Now, some cats go overboard. Like, shake my hand firm, man, but don't squeeze too hard. Who are you? Popeye? No need to break my fingers.
Also, there's hand hygiene: Don't sneeze into your palm and offer your hand—that just shows a lack of home-training.
And don't let me catch you in the washroom not washing your hands after you take care of business, son. Instant violation.
If you are eating ribs or barbecue, dap will do just fine, thank you. Unless you know me as a Free Mason and can hold your light, don't try to slip me any finger-dance, hand-jive or crazy ish. Just give me a grip, make it firm, and keep it moving. And if you're white, my name is Jimi Izrael, not Jimmie Walker—shake my hand like a man and keep that '70s-era-black-power handshake you've been perfecting for the last 10 years. Nothing like a white man hunched over in a lean trying to give you some "soul." Holy crap.
Everywhere in America, the handshake is a mark among men, an unspoken rite of affirmation and respect that says, "You know what? After all is done and said, you've got a pair, I've got a pair, and we both respect and revere that commonality." White men shake honorably. Black men have the half hug, which includes a grip. Gay men hug freely (as all real men should). Women kinda shake each others' fingers, and men shake hands with women as a matter of business: It's an equalizer, a nod of respect. One thing is for sure: The handshake is not to be taken lightly.
Like anything, there are degrees of insults. Like offering a man your left hand instead of your right—particularly if you are not left-handed—it's a declaration of intention: a gesture that signifies a deeply held enmity, hinting of vendetta. Refusing a handshake altogether is a violation that, from the boardroom to the poolroom, will pretty much get your ass kicked. And when a man won't shake another man's hand, it's insulting at a base level.
There are laws among men for shaking hands. There is no "ladies first" when it comes to the handshake: Deferring a handshake to your woman is like an open-hand slap—something you just don't do. You reject these simple truths as just street-corner protocol or puff-puff-pass politicking at your peril. This is real talk. This is the code of men.
McCain said more by not shaking Obama's hand—passing off to his wife—than words ever could. If he didn't want to touch him, he surely would not have let his wife do so. So to all you racial Chicken Littles out there: No, the diss was not about race. It was a violation 10 times more serious than that. McCain refusing Obama's hand was about dismissing Obama's manhood, refusing to meet him on the level, denying his equality as a man and worthy opponent.
Jimi Izrael's blog on The Root is The Hard Line .
Single Father, Author, Screenwriter, Award-Winning Journalist, NPR Moderator, Lecturer and College Professor. Habitual Line-Stepper