It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever a Black person does something, it’s usually cool and changes the world. Just look at TikTok. Or “Gen Z slang.” And, oh yeah, pretty much everything else.
Even a simple handshake in the literal hands of Black folks becomes a vessel for flyness, authenticity and cultural solidarity. There’s a reason why people remember (and replicate) Will and Jazz’s iconic handshake more than 25 years after the series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Plus, who could ever forget the iconic code switch handshake between former President Obama and Kevin Durant back in 2012? The moment lives on forever
in my heart on the Obama White House YouTube page and the spoofed “Obama Meet & Greet” sketch on Key & Peele.
But one greeting, in particular, speaks volumes about the time period in which it was created and its origins play a major role in concretizing its place in American history.
Black soldiers serving in Vietnam created the “dap,” which stands for dignity and pride, in the face of “prejudiced commanders or NCOs” as “manifestations of solidarity occurred frequently throughout the military and were an important assertion of social identity for black GIs,” per David Cortwright’s Black GI Resistance During the Vietnam War.
LaMont Hamilton is an interdisciplinary artist who created the Five on the Black Hand Side project, which explored “gestural languages that were born in African American communities” during the ’60s and ’70s. According to Hamilton:
Scholars on the Vietnam War and black Vietnam vets alike note that the dap derived from a pact black soldiers took in order to convey their commitment to looking after one another. Several unfortunate cases of black soldiers reportedly being shot by white soldiers during combat served as the impetus behind this physical act of solidarity.
Different types of “in-group handshakes,” like the dap or Black Power handshake, exist as a marker of identity and support, especially in the face of racism and immediate danger—much like today.
Whether Black folks are out here dapping one another up, nodding, or bumping elbows thanks to the pandemic, at the end of the day, it’s all about acknowledging someone’s humanity in a world that so often strips Black people of theirs. And that’s something we should all have a hand in.
Check out the video above to learn even more about the history of the dap.