That's a bare-knuckles kiss

Gesture by Obama and his wife is 'dap,' short for 'dignity and pride.' It's a black thing, at least for now

Election 2008

June 06, 2008|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

When Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination Tuesday night, in his victory moment he didn't merely turn to his wife for a perfunctory, sterile hug. Nor did the two engage, like Al and Tipper Gore, in an awkward make-out session.

The Obamas dapped.

That is, in a move that has electrified African-Americans and young people nationwide, the couple faced each other, looked into each other's eyes, formed fists and then tapped knuckles.

Dap!

If the nomination of the first African-American candidate for president is itself a historic moment, that little gesture, for many, punctuated the occasion with ethnic style and inherent coolness.

"For me, it was something special," says Mark Anthony Neal, a Duke University professor who specializes in black popular culture. "It's clear that Bill and Hillary wouldn't have given each other dap. John McCain wasn't giving his wife dap. It speaks to the uniqueness of the moment."

The move might have perplexed some political commentators, but it enchanted bloggers and more youthful pundits. Thousands have watched it again and again on YouTube, many dropping approving comments.

"That was the coolest and easiest fist bump *ever*!" one viewer gushed.

Another person declared: "One of the best moments in the campaign. ... I damn near teared up."

"That was my favorite part of the evening," someone else wrote. "Keep it real, Barack!"

The fist bump or pound is a greeting of sorts that carries more familiarity than a handshake and more panache than an embrace.

Though it was born in the black community, some say during the 1960s black power movement, most people - of any color - who haven't made it too far past their 40s have probably given, taken or at least borne witness to some friendly dap. Its name is an abbreviation of the phrase dignity and pride.

Gene Demby, a blogger with PostBourgie, a site that discusses issues of politics and race, says he knew as soon as he saw fist meet fist that Obama's gesture would likely separate the culturally with-it from the without.

"A lot of people were like 'Whaa?' and a lot of people were like 'That's really dope,'" the 27-year-old says approvingly. "It's why so many young people have flocked to his campaign. It just seemed like a very authentic moment."

Neal likes to throw a little dap at his 9-year-old daughter. If she does well in school, or wins a track meet, or even just to say goodbye, it's reason enough for a fist touch.

"It's a way to acknowledge our relationship when she's getting out of the minivan," he says. "It's a way to express a certain kind of unique intimacy. It's a way to maintain your personality in a public form, something that speaks to who we are."

When Barack and Michelle Obama did it, Neal considered it a revealing personal moment in the black vernacular, as if they were saying to each other, "Let's give each other a little dap to acknowledge the success of the journey."

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates tagged an item on his blog about Obama's gesture with the line: "The sacred art of giving dap."

"I think it says so much," says Coates, who's originally from Baltimore. "I really wonder how many white viewers caught that."

Neal thinks Obama's candidacy, from the beginning, has brought aspects of black culture to parts of society that, until now, have been largely, so to speak, dap-free.

Obama shoots hoops to relax, he doesn't embarrass himself when dancing on Ellen DeGeneres' show, he references iconic rap stars.

Ethelbert Miller absolutely loved it when Obama, in an April debate, borrowed a move from Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder?" video, brushing away imaginary shoulder dust to show how he's handling attacks on his campaign.

"I liked that better than the bump," Miller says. "There's a real coolness that I feel that he exhibits."

Marc Lamont Hill, a Temple University professor who writes about hip-hop culture and considers himself a "hard-core critic" of Obama, found the politician's gesture surprisingly genuine and "an unequivocal display of black cultural literacy."

"This seemed like a genuine act," Hill says. "Furthermore, the move showed a level of love, partnership and commitment that is rarely shown in public space, particularly among African-American couples.

"Given Barack's star power, and the historical role that black culture has played in broader American culture, expect many people to mimic their dap."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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