The politics of regional wrist wrestling

By Al Carlos Hernandez
Published on LatinoLA: October 7, 2002


Back in the day, a handshake was a simple procedure. You stuck out your hand, they stuck out their hand and you shook it. But as urban culture evolved, your handshake became an expression as to how hip or square you envisioned yourself to be.

?Sometimes hipness is what it ain?t.?

The first incarnation of a subcultural handshake was during the days when you would grab the base of someone?s thumb and they would grab yours. You would move it back and forth like you were both churning butter or having a dispute over a 40 ouncer. This was called a soul shake. For Latinos this evolved into soul shake, regular shake, then soul shake again. If you did it wrong or tried to do a formal shake when someone was trying to soul you up, you were a dork or a prude. This hand jive caused many a sprained wrist.

Handshaking is a tradition based on showing the other person that you are not armed and are not afraid to make physical contact. I have noticed however, that Latinos usually have very passive limp hand handshakes. I believe the reason for this is that crushing someone?s hand is usually taken as an act of aggression and limp hand poses no threat, unless it is accompanied by a wink and a phone number.

I went to a business seminar and I learned that successful business people are taught to give a firm handshake while looking the person directly in the eyes. As you repeat their name, you slowly twist your hand down, causing the other persons hand to twist in submission. This give the businessperson a subliminal edge, demonstrating a certain control, and domination over the person you meet. This should result in a quicker sale, dinner date, or a beat down, depending on your goals and objectives.

The latest incarnation of the hip handshake is: A Soul Shake that goes into a regular shake, that goes into finger clasping, a minor tug of war, then a snap when the fingers are released.

There is a time in life and I don?t know when it happens, that young people start giving you the formal handshake no matter what, because they think your old. Older folks who give young people modern handshakes are oftentimes given honored OG status. OGs who give dorky kid's hip handshakes when they expect a formal one, are forced to assume the kid's dork status themselves. OG?s that give older square friends modern handshakes are said to have issues.

The high five should only be done at sporting events and by Black people. A word of advice: iI you cannot dance you, cannot high five. I have noticed Yuppies (irrespective of race) trying be cool, high fiving, and it always looks like two merging Hitler salutes and always appears stiff, nerdy and disingenuous.

A growing popular greeting is the fist to fist bump, which then can expand into a one potato, two potato thing, but you really have to know that person well, and have to be diligent in avoiding three syllable words in regular conversation.

Greeting someone can be a complicated thing and first impressions usually last. When I meet someone, I check for clues as to which handshake to spring on him or her. It is uncomfortable when you go for the formal and they bend your hand into almost a pretzel with a regional ?dap.? Conversely, if you greet a Homie in another part of the country and you come with your West Coast stuff you end up spraining a finger.

The handshake for Latinos often is a precursor that evolves into an abrazo, a little hug. An abrazo shows affection and respect and had been adapted by most of Hip-Hop culture. The hug should occur during the finger clasps before the snapping away, and should not last more than two or three seconds. If you are from Oakland and are particularly fond of that person, you can shove them back a few feet.

I am happy that we live in a time when people literally reach out and touch each other in giving respect. I credit Latino culture in showing other cultures the value and sophisticated humanity of giving everyone ?their count?, the respect they deserve by greeting each person in a familial manner.

About Al Carlos Hernandez:
Al Carlos is a weekly columnist.

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