From Seattle writer and consultant Matt Rosenberg...

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Careful With That Soul Shake, White Boy

January 16, 2006

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl says inter-racial handshakes can be tricky, especially when white guys presume that the right way to greet a black man is with the 60s-vintage "soul" shake (forearm bent upward at forty-five degree angle, thumb raised, then laid on). Here's more (free reg. req.):

White men sometimes aren't sure if they should do a traditional business handshake when they greet black men. It seems so bland and stiff. And black men often don't know what the heck is coming when they shake hands with white men, at least outside of a business setting. They brace themselves while a hand flies at them, ready for a triple axel of grasping and releasing.

It looks so cool when, say, Carson Daly and Kanye West do it on TV, but it's more like a bad hand collision in real life. "And it's a collision of embarrassment," said one of my African-American consultants for this column, Journal Sentinel assistant managing editor for sports, Garry Howard....(He) keeps a close eye on the other guy's approach....if the arm is more tipped upward, Howard will quickly adjust and move in thumb-first for what another of my consultants called "a soul shake." It's basically the same peace and love hippie-type shake we did in the 1960s to show our parents we rejected their way of doing things. You still see old white friends greet each other that way, even if somewhat ironically. Anyway, that shake may or may not be followed by the sliding of the hands and an additional grasp of the fingertips and a pop on the release. This takes some practice. Or it could lead to the very popular bumping of right chest to right chest and the quick one-handed hug and back pat.

But any miscalculation at all and you've got a mishmash of fingers and uneven gripping. Definitely not cool. Tyrone Dumas, project manager of diversity and community engagement for Milwaukee Public Schools, knows what I'm talking about. "I always tell people to never come into a situation assuming people would do it different than you do it," he said. "Never presume there is a special handshake."

Good advice, in all respects. Tech bloggers: are you listening? Speak English, wouldja? Or is it all about "private club" status? And white guys, listen up, OK?

"Many brothers aren't really cool these days sharing the soul shake with folks that fail to mirror them ethnically. They feel that our blue-eyed soul brothers are condescending or just trying too hard to be hip when offering the soul shake unless there's a past relationship there," said Anthony D. Smith, who works in my newspaper's marketing department.

He's right. The relationship is key. My best soul handshake ever, ironically, occured totally spontaneously, between myself and a good friend named Susan Creamer, a very white, red-haired, freckled woman from New Hampshire, whom I got to know attending Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. A fellow jazzbo, funkateer and free spirit from the campus radio station - so, no wonder. It just happened one day in between classes on an outdoor stairway, and went on for a good 30 seconds. The amazing thing was we had no idea what we were doing, but as it moved through four stages, we were perfectly in synch.

Susan, if you're out there somewhere.....Just know that I remember that like it was yesterday. Could it be the best soul shakes involving honkies are with other honkies? I'd like to think not, but........

Anyway, the far greater concern is people who can't even manage a regular handshake; they give you the 'ol limp fish, and you wonder: WTF? Then there are the over-compensating bonecrushers. All you need to know about handshakes are in this post, at John Carlton's Big Damn Blog.


Posted by Matt Rosenberg at January 16, 2006 05:54 PM

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