How Our Handshakes Communicate Solidarity Across The Diaspora

Briona Lamback
November 13, 2023

We’ve been dapping each other up for generations. It’s a split-second exchange that communicates much more than meets the eye.

The ‘Dap’ was created in the 1960s when Black soldiers stationed in Vietnam came up with it. It was a coded form of solidarity that our people used to communicate. It wasn’t just about saying hello, though. Dapping somebody us was a nonverbal commitment to looking out for one another.

Even in the 60s, the importance of handshakes wasn’t anything new for us. Early accounts from colonial West African countries, like Sierra Leone, recall expressive handshakes among our people. 

One historical account said, “If long separated, they put their hands on each other’s shoulders, draw them down each other’s arms, and rub the hands together, always closing off with a very expressive snap of the finger.” This is a custom we held on to despite enslavement.

For centuries, continental Africans have used various shakes depending on who was on the other end, like a tribal chief or an elder. In the early 1900s, Divine Nine fraternities and sororities introduced secret handshakes to identify members.

Our shakes are sacred dances with the hands and a form of cultural preservation that goes beyond salutation. They’re also a reminder that even the smallest gestures of unity are essential for working together toward our liberation.

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