The greeting known as ‘the dap’ has an amazing history you did not know

Nii Ntreh February 17, 2020
US President Barack Obama embraces Broderick Johnson, Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force, during the White House Mentorship and Leadership Graduation Ceremony in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 15, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

There is always a lot of cynicism on standby, sometimes even from in-group, for those who dare allege that there is such a thing as “black culture” in America.

Usually, one debates the facticity of black culture in the wider discussion of cultural appropriation. But that is a much murkier matter.

If defined as the material and immaterial expressions and way of life of a people, culture is something a given people have no option but to have. It is the result of both intentional and indeliberate action.

That being said, we shall consider the essential symbol of cordiality known as the dap, an element of black culture.

Hands, wide opened, are slapped hard and when they meet, each person clenches the other’s palm to perform a variety of gesticulations which to the outsider might seem quite needless.

Dapping, for those who are familiar, tends to be taken for granted. Much like kissing, the ubiquity of the dap means that you are most likely not going to have someone ask, “how did this even start?”.

But as it turns out, the dap has a rather fascinating history dating back to America’s invasion of Vietnam.

The word “dap”, which is African-American English for an elaborate shake and a halfway hug, is supposed to have been a corrupted form of the Vietnamese word, according to James Westheider.

Westheider, a historian, argues in The African American Experience in Vietnam that the idea of calling a close friend “blood” (or “blud” in UK and Jamaican urban talk) came as a result of African-American soldiers in Vietnam finding a language to convey brotherliness while on the war front.

Westheider also writes that the black soldiers came up with the dap while at war.

“Dap is a corruption of the word “dep” Vietnamese…meaning beautiful. The dap, also known as “checking in”, was… handshake involving numerous gestures and movements…”, Westheider notes.

He also adds that the point of this elaborate, almost endless greeting was simply the soldiers’ way of saying, “My brother, I’m with you.”

This argument of the dap as founded in solidarity is shared by LaMont Hamilton who wrote in “Five on the Black Hand Side: Origins and Evolutions of the Dap”:

“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.”

Connected to the spirit of black identity and solidarity, we find later suggestions showing that dap is actually an acronym for “Dignity And Pride”.

The validity of this view is not necessary because it is a useful myth. It quite accurately communicates the intention of the action.

As with hip hop, natural hair and other black forms of expression, the dap tends to be treated by many in the American mainstream as a ghettoized cultural act.

Ironically, this ostracism forces the dap to stay true to the vein in which it was construed – an act of black people having each other’s back.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: February 17, 2020


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