The Phenomenon of Dap

Changing the World, one first bump at a time.

Justin Hunter
Sep 20, 2017 · 6 min read
President Obama, famous dapper

When I’m walking up to greet one of my boys, the first thing I make eye contact with is his hand. This is because it is traveling towards me at a reasonable clip and my attention will be required. Forget his eyes. His shoes are dope (because whether most men mention it or not, they’re always looking at another man’s shoes first; I’ve yet to confirm this phenomenon with women), but that’s not important. The dap is what’s important — and it’s not as easy as most think to achieve the silky-smooth, confidence-boosting, yummy connection between to people. It takes the aformentioned eye contact, the focus, the anticipation and the pre-assesment of the angle of the thumb. I’m adjusting the height of his arm. I’m taking note of the trajectory of his swing arm as my hand connects with his and I’m rewarded with a resounding “CUFF” noise that confirms the beginnings of a hearty dap. That “cuff” sound can only be best explained as the noise of two African-American souls linking*. With hands clasped, smiled are offered. The necessary question, “What’s good?” Is replied with the even more necessary answer, “Ah, I can’t call it.”

That’s it. The table has been set. Often times, thats all you need because that’s what a solid dap will do. Everything else rests on the foundation of the dap you provided. Hopefully it was a good one.

*This does not imply that a true dap can be only achieved by two Black men, or even that being a man required, rather, that in some form, two people have connected in a unique, inherently Black way.

What is Dap?

Dap is a friendly gesture. It’s like a handshake, but to present it as just that is tantamount to calling the Hindenburg tragedy a “small fire”.

When most think of dap, they visualize a pounding of fists, Howie-Deal-Or-No-Deal-Style. And while that is a form of dap, that’s merely the foyer in the house of African-American-based greetings.

Let’s start with start with some history. We’ll talk about the cause, then we’ll get into the effect.

Take as much time as you need. Photo by LaMont Hamilton

The origin of modern dapping can be traced back to the 1960’s, specifically, Black G.I’s during the Vietnam War. And yes, this is about to get much deeper than you thought it would. You see, a lot of the current things Black people do today originate from a very important time in society. Understand that things happened for a reason. Here’s the example:

Black G.I’s were fighting a war that was complicated. Some, especially Black Americans, thought the war had little to do with them. Those who were drafted were subjected to racism abroad. I’m not talking about “mean words”. I’m talking about fragging. Dap was birthed out of the need for Black soldiers to show solidarity. (This is in part why some of us young guys may here an older Black man refer to you as “soldier” during a dap.)

Some researchers suggest that “dap” is an acronym for “Dignity and Pride” as the greeting is a way to show the sentiment of “I’m not above you, you’re not above me, we’re side by side, we’re together.” This act of solidarity is believed to have been viewed as hostile by commanding officers in Vietnam, prompting the discharge or killing of Black soldiers. I’ve yet to confirm this acronym, but I can tell you first hand that this sentiment is definitely present.

Black soldiers being discharged for dapping is still under review, (though I personally wouldn’t be surprised) but the importance of the greeting, especially during a time when racial tensions were high, (i.e. Black Panther Party, Civil Rights Movement, Ali refusing the draft, etc.) cannot be debated. Racial tensions caused the act to flourish into the everyday greeting we now partake in. It’s so cool, everyone is doing it, but more on that later.

What does dap mean?

Once, while in a physician’s waiting room, I was greeted by a rare Black male nurse who took me back to my patient room for my preliminary evaluation. Of course, a handshake would be expected, followed by an introduction. What I received was a hearty dap—complete with the reach-in-and-pound-the-back followthrough. This set the stage for a unique conversation and interaction that would not have occurred otherwise. It also gave me a glimpse into the consciousness of the Black nurse in from of me. As you can begin to tell, dap is much more nuanced than you would think, as it is as much a statement about how you view the world around you as it is greeting others.

My brother and a few of his friends have actually sat down and talked about it. Between laughs and acting out different daps, it was interesting to see a consensus on the specifics. Certain daps say something about you, and snap judgements are made. For example:

In many instances, good daps are about the situational awareness surrounding them. If a man is already sitting and you’re walking past with no intention to stop for a longer greeting, a quick slap of the palm into a mutual gripping of the fingertips is usually enough. Conversely, the man stopping you, squeezing your thumb too hard, standing up, cupping your back is honestly too much in that situation and character evaluations follow.

Beyond stating your awareness of Black culture and how you fit into white spaces, dap also reflects a coolness factor. Those who are viewed as cool or interesting guys tend to have chameleon-like dapping skills. Knowing when you snap at the end, when to remain seated, when two pounds on the back is acceptable or necessary are all major keys.

Dap today and beyond

I’m not upset that dap is universal now, and though I may be placing the appropriation of other social constructs onto this one, I am still uneasy of what can happen when people run away with your stuff. Either way, the ability that dap has to connect people cannot be ignored. Much like the regular handshake, the positive start to an interaction can be crucial to establishing a respectful and dignified stage for two people. A dap is a conversation starter, it’s a show of cultural sensitivity, it’s a subtle understanding of its early beginnings of solidarity and respect, and sets the stage for the rest of the conversation. So teach your White friends. Teach your Indian friends and your Ukrainian friends, (Though they usually already know) because given our country’s most recent events, we’ve got a lot of tough conversations to have.

Justin Hunter

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“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” —Allen Ginsberg, WD