Saturday, March 3, 2018

African American Soldiers In Vietnam & The Custom Of Giving Daps (Black Handshakes)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information about and comments regarding African American soldiers in Vietnam and the custom of dapping* (giving "daps"; giving Black handshakes").

This post also provides excerpts about the fist bump (pound) which is often said to have come from the custom of dapping.

Videos of daps and fist bumps are also included in this post.

*"Daps" isn't the same thing as "the dab".

"Dap" is general term for styles of African American originated "intricate ritualized handshake, involving numerous gestures and movements" [quote from The African American Experience in Vietnam: Brothers in Arms by James E. Westheider].

People say that they are "giving some daps" and "dapping [a person] up" (giving a form of the "Black handshake").

In contrast, "dabbing" ("the dab"), is a simple dance move or playful gesture, in which a person drops their head into the bent crook of a slanted arm, while raising the opposite arm in a parallel direction but out straight. The move looks similar to someone sneezing into the "inside" of the elbow.[1][2]....From [retrieved July 9, 2017]
People say that they are "doing the dap" (doing that dance movement).

Click for a 2017 pancocojams post entitled The Meanings Of "Boujee", "Dab", "Dab Of Ranch", "JuJu On The Beat" & Some Other African American Vernacular English Terms From Viral Hip Hop Dance Songs

The content of this post is provided for historical, linguistic, and cultural purposes.

All copyright remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in these videos and all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to publishers of these videos on YouTube.

for one post in a four part series on Black Handshakes. The links to the other posts in that series are found in that post.

Click for the pancocojams post entitled "The Significance In The Black Panther Movie Of Black Panther's Sister Shuri Giving A Dap (A Black Power Handshake)"

Also, click the "black handshakes tag" below for additional pancocojams posts on this subject.

The three different etymologies are given in the excerpts below for the word "dap".
1. "Dap" is an acronym for “dignity and pride"
2. "Dap" is a corruption of the word “dep” Vietnamese slang for something beautiful.
3. "Dap" is a clip of the word "dapper" meaning “neat, fashionably smart"

#1 above appears to be the most common online etymology for "daps" (handshakes), but that doesn't necessarily mean it is the correct etymology for this term. It's possible that that etymology was created after the term "dap" became at least somewhat familiar (among certain populations of African Americans).

These excerpts are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.
Excerpt #1
"Five on the Black Hand Side: Origins and Evolutions of the Dap"; September 22, 2014 | LaMont Hamilton
..."Five on the Black Hand Side is a project exploring gestural languages that were born in African American communities during the 1960s and 1970s, including the “the dap” and the black power handshake. When we see youths, athletes, or even President Obama giving a fist bump or dap, we think of these gestures as mere greetings and are not aware of the origins and historical significance of these languages.

Historically, the dap is both a symbol among African American men that expresses unity, strength, defiance, or resistance and a complex language for communicating information. The dap and the black power handshake, which evolved from the dap, were important symbols of black consciousness, identity, and cultural unity throughout black America.

The dap originated during the late 1960s among black G.I.s stationed in the Pacific during the Vietnam War. At a time when the Black Power movement was burgeoning, racial unrest was prominent in American cities, and draft reforms sent tens of thousands of young African Americans into combat, the dap became an important symbol of unity and survival in a racially turbulent atmosphere. 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.

Such events, combined with the racism and segregation faced by black G.I.s, created a pressing need for an act and symbol of unity. The dap, an acronym for “dignity and pride” whose movements translate to “I’m not above you, you’re not above me, we’re side by side, we’re together,” provided just this symbol of solidarity and served as a substitute for the Black Power salute prohibited by the military.

White soldiers and commanding officers deemed the handshake a threat under the misconception that the dap was a coded language of potential black insurrection. In fact the dap was also a coded form of communication between soldiers that conveyed necessary information for survival, such as what to expect at the battlefront or what had transpired during an operation. The dap was banned at all levels of the military, and thus many black soldiers were court-martialed, jailed, and even dishonorably discharged as a punishment for dapping. Military repression of the dap further cemented a desire for a symbol of solidarity and protection among black men.

Conversely, later in the war, the military saw the utility of using the dap in medical treatment of black combatants with post-traumatic stress disorder, creating a program of “dap therapy.” The military would bring in black G.I.s fluent in the dap to dap with these men to build their trust up to accept treatment from white doctors and staff."...

Excerpt #2: The African American Experience in Vietnam: Brothers in Arms
By James E. Westheider
page 76
..."African Americans who remained in the armed services often reacted to racism by seeking comfort and safety in racial solidarity and by establishing their own sub-culture within the military. They called each other “brother”, “soul brother”, or “bloods”, and they were proud of being black. Two popular methods of greeting fellow black soldiers and demonstrating racial solidarity were the black power salute, a clenched fist in the air, and the “dab”, which developed in Vietnam, probably among inmates of the notorious Long Binh stockade. Dap is a corruption of the word “dep” Vietnamese slang for something beautiful. The dap, also known as “checking in”, was an intricate ritualized handshake, involving numerous gestures and movements. There was no standard dap, but there were many common gestures. There were countless variations of dap, and some of the more common greetings could go on for five or more minutes. Each move had a specific meaning: Pounding on the heart with a clenched fist, for example, symbolized brotherly love and solidarity; clenching fingers together and then touching the backside of the hand meant “My brother, I’m with you”. Most of the gestures signified solidarity, respect, and pride, but a few had darker meanings. A slicing movement across the throat symbolized cutting the throats of white MPs, never a favorite group among black recruits."...

Except #3
From "On Language: Fist Bump by William Safire
"Prof. Geneva Smitherman, director of African-American language study at Michigan State University, says:... "Pound is when knuckles touch in a horizontal position. That’s the gesture that Michelle and Barack used. Dap is when the knuckles touch in a vertical position. Both gestures can be used as a greeting, to signal respect, agreement, bonding.”

Dap started among black soldiers during the Vietnam War; to give “some dap” (not usually “a” dap) means “to offer kudos, congratulations”; Prof. James Peterson of Bucknell, a hip-hop historian, says he thinks it is rooted in dapper, “neat, fashionably smart.” Pound came out of hip-hop in the late 1980s. Fist bump came later: a 1996 note in the Sports Network wire service reported that Eddie Murray of the Baltimore Orioles was accepting congratulations from baseball teammates with “high-fives, handshakes or fist bumps.” Peterson says the new phrase robs the gesture of its cultural significance, which includes the Obamas’ “quiet but pronounced in-group affiliation with all of black America.” "

Excerpt #4
From,8599,1812102,00.html "A Brief History of the Fist Bump" by M.J. Stephey Thursday, June 05, 2008
"It's a hand gesture normally associated with sporting events and Bud Lite commercials. But on Tuesday night, millions of people witnessed Michelle Obama daintily knocking knuckles with her husband as the Illinois Senator took the stage to claim the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The Washington Post called it "the fist bump heard 'round the world."

The origins of the bump are murky, though most communication experts agree on a basic — if fuzzy — evolutionary timeline: the handshake (which itself dates back to ancient times) begat the "gimme-five" palm slap that later evolved into the now universal "high-five" and, finally, the fist bump.

Some claim the act of knuckle-bumping began in the 1970s with NBA players like Baltimore Bullets guard Fred Carter. Others claim the fist bump's national debut occurred off the court, citing the Wonder Twins, minor characters in the 1970s Hanna-Barbera superhero cartoon The Superfriends, who famously touched knuckles and cried "Wonder Twin powers, activate!' before morphing into animals or ice sculptures. One might also credit germaphobics for the fist bump's popularity. Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel reportedly adopted the gesture as a friendly way to avoid his contestants' germs.

Even the terminology used to describe the manual move is under dispute. On reporting Obama's speech, The New York Times described it stuffily as a "closed-fisted high-five" while Human Events reader racily suggested it was closer to "Hezbollah-style fist-jabbing," (the comment was later removed from the article). One Internet poster even referred to it as "the fist bump of hope." Other terms for the move include "power five," "fist pound," "knuckle bump," "Quarter Pounder" and "dap."

The fist bump's precursor, the low- and high-fives, originated in the 1950s, again mostly among athletes, who deemed handshakes too muted and formal for celebrating teamwork and triumph. The 1980s are generally regarded as the heyday of the high-five, though the gesture has enjoyed a revival of sorts in recent years “...

Excerpt #5
From Who Made That Fist Bump?
By Pagan Kennedy, October. 26, 2012
..."The fist bump may have arisen spontaneously on city basketball courts, where kids developed slaps and shakes to celebrate wins. It can also be traced to the boxing ring, where opponents kiss gloves before a match. In the 1970s, the basketball star Fred Carter stamped it with his own exuberant personality, and some credit him as its inventor. However, fist-bump-ologists point out (as does Carter) that the gesture probably predates him.

[Pastor Scott] Williams said that he realized the power of the bump 10 years ago, while working as a prison warden. “I wanted to interact with the inmates, to pay respect to them, and I could do that by giving them the fist bump.” Since then, Williams has encouraged people in countries from Tanzania to Ecuador to adopt the salute. At SeaWorld San Diego, he proffered his fist to a walrus named Obie for an interspecies bump. (The walrus used its snout.)

Williams believes that Barack Obama deserves credit for reinventing the fist bump. In 2008, when Obama locked knuckles with Michelle after his nomination, the cable stations erupted, and a Fox newscaster denounced the “terrorist fist jab.” Yet the bump emerged from the brouhaha looking presidential. “Obama’s fist bump caught the attention of the world,” Williams says. “And so, because of that platform, it’s not just people who are watching sports that are seeing it. It’s the leaders.” For the stiffest of shirts, the Obama moment helped the fist bump cross over “into the professional realm and become business casual,” Williams adds, and now “it’s the Swiss Army knife of gestures.”

The editors of the Merriam-Webster dictionary appear to agree. Noticing a surge in the use of the phrase “fist bump” in recent years, they anointed it as official English in 2011. “Fist bump” took its place in the dictionary, along with “tweet,” “helicopter parent” and “bromance.”...
Here are some comments from this article's discussion thread:
1. Rocker Trple Creek Ma, October 26, 2012
"It was invented in prison to avoid the spread of gearms."..

2. citizen314 new york, new york, October 27, 2012
"Whether or not the fist bump was started in prison to avoid spreading germs - I am not sure. However as a creative working class musician person who has been street level for around 25 years in NYC (20) and 5 in LA - the first group of folks to fist bump in Manhattan were on the Lower East Side and East Village and were the Rastas from the Caribbean. They once had food shops when rent was affordable in the East Village and I remember the day they fist bumped me around 1990. I feel the reasons are a mix including solidarity - first touching your chest with your fist as in one heart, one people and then the fist bump to connect. Germs and and not wanting to be embarrassed by sweaty palms are other reasons."

3. Bettina Arlington, Va, October 28, 2012
"While this article mentions what the author calls the 'soul handshake,' it leaves out the 'dap', which predates the fist bump and is a sign of black solidarity. There are several references in the scholarly literature that provide a broader explanation of the origin of the dap in popular culture and politics. Including some reference to the influence of the black power movement in the article would have provided a more accurate representation of the origins of today's fist bump."

4. a-man, New York, NY, October 29, 2012
"It comes from dapping, which was common among black soldiers in Vietnam. The army brass banned it and it became even cooler as a result."

These videos are presented in chronological order based on their publication date on YouTube, with the oldest dated video given first.

Example #1: black GI greetings

flaper, Published on Apr 6, 2009

from "Sir! No Sir! The Vietnam GI Revolt" by David Zeiger (Docurama, 2005)
Here's my transcription of the comments that are given in this the film clip from .03-.018:
black GI greetings
Darrell Summers- “On my whole tour of Vietnam, you know, when you met a Black soldier, you know, he had a dap, he had a special handshake. You could even it got to the point where you could even tell ah, what part of the, ah, what part of the country he was from, ‘cause everybody had their distinctive, ah, their dap or handshake and you definitely could tell if he wasn’t in your company ‘cause everybody knew, everybody had their own moves."
-end of transcription-
In the context of this comment, the word “company” means the unit of soldiers that you were assigned to.

This video includes a film clip from 1972. The commenter also said that in Vietnam Black soldiers were jailed just for greeting each other with a dap.

Example #2: Usain Bolt fist bumps Glasgow volunteer | Unmissable Moments

Commonwealth Games, Published on Aug 3, 2014

Great scenes at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as Jamaica's Usain Bolt shares a low five and a fist bump with a young volunteer.

Example #3: Obama's finest fist bumps

CNN, Published on Nov 30, 2016

A look back at President Obama's countless fist bumps.


Prime Time Ballers, Published on May 28, 2017

Example #5: The Historic Origins of the Dap

Great Big Story, Published on Feb 5, 2018

The dap is more than just a handshake, it’s a symbol of solidarity, one with a long and proud history behind it. The origins of this greeting trace back to young Black American soldiers stationed abroad during the Vietnam War. With racism prevalent in the military and a new Black consciousness emerging during the civil rights movement, the young soldiers developed a physical language as a gesture of unity. Thus was born the dap, an acronym for “Dignity and Pride.” Photographer LaMont Hamilton has been studying the historical impact of the dap in his series “Five on the Black Hand Side,” telling the story of how the handshake came to hold such a profound place in Black culture.
Here are some comments from this video's discussion thread (All of these comments are from February 2018):
1. Bill Loman
"Ive been familiar with the dap most of my life but I never knew it had such a history. This is fascinating"

2. john richhardson
"Why they gotta make it a racial thing??

I’m white and I dap my black homies up - can I not do that now??"

3. Bunny1412
"this is about the history of the dap, there was nothing in it about you or your right to do it with your black friends.."

5. Jansen Yabes
"Alden Richardson No one in the video said white people can't do it. Stop reaching"

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1 comment:

  1. I wonder when "dapping" (African American males giving intricate handshakes) first occurred or what were the precursors to this custom.

    I also wonder if there are any historical records of African Americans doing intricate handshakes or fist bumps (pounds) prior to the 1960s/1970s Vietnam war.

    I absolutely don't mean to discredit the tremendous influence of the Black Vietnam soldiers regarding dapping, but I think it's unlikely that the custom of "dapping" (giving Black handshakes) came about "out of the blue" among Black American Vietnam soldiers.

    I doubt this, in part, because of the history of both secret and public handshakes, in traditional African cultures, and elsewhere -including among members of fraternal organizations such as the Masons and historically Black, university based Greek letter organizations.

    And among other possible influences, I wonder if dapping (performing intricate handshakes) was/is influenced by (mostly) Black girl's children's hand clap games as there are similar motions in both of these performance arts.