Stuff White People Say

July 19, 2008

African American men don’t shake hands like that.

Now, here’s the rest of what [a handbook on American customs] for foreign visitors says about how “we” shake hands–is this really how all of us shake hands?

When Americans shake hands, they normally exert a small amount of pressure on each others’ hands, move their clasped hands a bit upwards, then a bit downwards, then release their grip. People from other places where handshaking is customary may hold the other person’s hand more or less firmly than Americans do, sustaining contact for a shorter or a longer time than Americans. One’s character in the U.S. is often assumed by the appropriateness of their handshake.

Obviously, African American men in particular have other ways of putting their hands together, and other racial groups do as well (though I’ll admit, I don’t know what forms the latter take). So this visitor’s handbook may be explaining the “normal” American method, but it’s really the “white” method.


What’s more interesting, though, about differences in handshaking techniques is that if a white and a non-white person encounter each other in a casual setting and decide to clasp hands, there may be uncertainty about which handshaking method to use–the white one or a non-white one. When there is uncertainty about which to use, the fall-back is usually the standard handshake, that is, the method more likely to be used by the white person than by the non-white one. The non-white person often represses a preferred method of contact, and the white person feels little if any discomfort about being the enforcer of a standard.

(from shake hands our way at Stuff White People Do)
(emphasis mine)


  1. if a white and a non-white person encounter each other in a casual setting and decide to clasp hands, there may be uncertainty about which handshaking method to use–the white one or a non-white one.

    This is like saying African Americans who are professionals or find themselves in mixed company “may be” uncertain about whether they should use ethnic slang or so-called “Ebonics.” Like African-American, e.g., have no concept of formal, professional or non-black-ethnic settings where more widely used styles of communicating (so-called ‘standard’ English) or handshakes are used. Like African-Americans, e.g., just assumes something they know to be particular to their group is shared by people who are not in their group.

    The non-white person often represses a preferred method of contact

    Applying the multiple choice test to this is instructive here:

    When a Black person (and, again, that’s all you’re aware, by your own assumption/admission) encounters a White person in a casual, everyday, setting is the Black person thinking:

    (a) I should give him/her some dap (old school slapping or popping style of hand “clasping”, e.g.);
    (b) I feel like giving him/her some dap because that’s what I “prefer” doing when I meet/greet Whites;
    (c) This person knows how to give dap
    (d) none of the above

    The idea that Black people (which Macon wants to stretch into ALL non-white people) are repressing anything is baseless. It’s based on the unfounded idea that Blacks would “prefer” to shake White people’s hands the way they shake Black people’s hands.

    It’s like saying someone who is fluent in, in this case, two languages or modes of communication is “repressing” something when they are in settings where their second language is widely used. Like they are uncertain if Spanish is spoken in an English language setting and somehow repressing their Spanish by speaking English in an English language setting.

    No. That’s one of those things on the multiple choice test that does not “best describe” what is going on.

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 19, 2008 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  2. if a white and a non-white person encounter each other in a casual setting and decide to clasp hands, there may be uncertainty about which handshaking method to use–the white one or a non-white one.

    I’m pretty sure that this is white projection.

    Comment by Restructure! — July 19, 2008 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  3. That’s exactly Macon’s problem in his “express amazement” and “believe others consider them trustworthy” thread. He projects the kind of base response Whites apparently have when it comes to “extending trust” onto Black/non-white people. He took the idea that non-whites have (more of) a reason to not extend trust to Whites, (more of) a reason to DO WHAT WHITES DO and “wait for the [white] person to prove herself better than other [white] people” as non-whites actually doing it.

    This is a case of Macon, unwittingly, making Whites the template of human behavior. He felt justified in doing so just on the basis, on the idea that non-whites have (more of) a reason to do to Whites what Whites do to them. PROJECTION BY ANY OTHER NAME.

    He just added the little patronizing twist that non-whites know more as a way to justify his sloppy logic. We see elements of this same type of reasoning when he posed this rhetorical question:

    what do whites really have to get angry together over, as a racial group?”

    So, instead of actually drawing his ideas based on the factual reality, this is all academic to Macon and things don’t occur to him unless he sees a reason for it. When it comes Macon speaking about non-whites and extending trust, Macon’s whole theory revolves around his article of faith/belief that non-whites don’t extend trust to Whites because he believes:

    (1) Non-whites have a reason not to extend trust to whites; which he…
    (2) Connected to his article of faith/belief that all whites are racist.

    That’s why Macon can’t and knows he can’t find support for his stereotyping idea (and it’s a stereotype because Macon’s most direct ‘proof’ was the decontextualized statement of an anonymous Black women who seemed to lend support for what Macon obviously would have said/believed with or without support).

    Comment by nquest2xl — July 19, 2008 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  4. […] This, of course, is based on Macon D’s assumption that for black people, the fist-bump is always the “preferred metho… […]

    Pingback by “So can I keep my hip-white-boy status? Pleeze?” « Stuff White People Say — July 20, 2008 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  5. What’s more interesting, though, about differences in handshaking techniques is that if a white and a non-white person encounter each other in a casual setting and decide to clasp hands, there may be uncertainty about which handshaking method to use–the white one or a non-white one.

    Macon, sometimes I get the impression that you have a *good idea* and then you prefer to make things up. You again reduce people to skin-color alone, and don’t have any understanding of the greater picture.
    Human beings are social living beings, that means people live together in groups and nations. People developed signs, clues, signals, customs and language to communicate with each other. Communication means, that clues, signs, language etc. are understood by all people within eg one nation.

    Shaking hands is a commonly understood way in America. It goes back to history, where shaking hands was probably a sign to signal that you don’t have a weapon in your hands.
    You talk about a traditional main-stream social signal.

    Individual groups/races may develop their own language, signs etc. within the dominant culture. And in many cases this happens as a necessary reaction towards oppression, means, such signs etc. do have particular meanings and extremely rarely the meaning is “hello main-stream”.

    Comment by jwbe — July 21, 2008 @ 11:14 am | Reply

  6. […] I submit that Baldwin’s question is one way for Whites to approach examining Whiteness with a direct focus on Whiteness without the kind of dependency the title line implies and the apparent crutch and built-in focus shift inherent in what seems to be Macon’s idea of “the best way to understand whiteness”, relationally and comparatively to non-whites, as evidence by his problematic practice. […]

    Pingback by “We want to talk about racism, but how can we do that without people of color there?” « Stuff White People Say — July 30, 2008 @ 9:46 am | Reply

  7. […] justify this feeling with some objective measure. I wonder if I didn’t fall into the trap of assuming too much on behalf of Asians. Obviously, that is the implications of some of the responses to my criticism. […]

    Pingback by the laughing linden branch » Am I being too sensitive? — August 15, 2008 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  8. […] African American men don’t shake hands like that at Stuff White People Say […]

    Pingback by White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures. « Restructure! — October 27, 2008 @ 11:29 pm | Reply

  9. I guess I am very introverted, but I do not like to shake anyone’s hand unless the situation requires it. Hand shaking is a very odd cutsom that really has no real purpose in the modern world.

    Comment by Just Me — December 11, 2008 @ 5:19 am | Reply

  10. After reading all of this……….
    This guy says…..WOW! There really isn’t any fixing the things that keep the races apart; not if the comments here are representative of the current race dialogue. I presume this statement should be followed by a thousand page disclaimer in an attempt to avoid offence.
    Continue with your assumptions; read aloud from the race conflict handbook.
    This thread is weak. ( which should probably be followed by yet another thousand page apologetic disertation to avoid offending someone else.)

    Richmond, Va. United States of the Offended

    Comment by Kevin — February 26, 2009 @ 2:00 am | Reply

  11. Well, I wish that people could get past their issues of being uncomfortable. I UNDERSTAND that the fist-bump/knuckle-bust, can be considered lacking in sincerity in comparison to what some may deem a “traditional” hand-shake. But I ask that YOU understand, I’m the type who am totally comfortable (AND satisified with the reciprocation of what I receive from the other person(s) I’m greeting), with any of these examples given as a hand-shake.

    I love slappin’ skin with other cultures, the DAP as it is explained above. I’m truly thankful that my African-Americans taught that to me decades ago! It’s really cool when 2 people get the perfect pocket of air between their palms & almost make a “Thunder-Clap”. You almost always see a satisfactory smile on BOTH party’s faces! However, like Howie Mandel & others that are perhaps germophobes, I understand & am content with the fist-bump. Although in my humble opinion, it does still spread germs to a degree – – I do it to make the recipient more comfortable in our exchange of warmth to one another.

    A twist though: I have witnessed first-hand, the comfort level of someone I swith up on (i.e. – if I see someone approach, they notice that I start out with the Traditional & switch to a knuckle, it almost takes the receiver aback). That is TOTAL err on MY part: It would most likely suggest to them, that I was trying to match my shake to the recipients’ culture – – how offensive that could be perceived! So, by seeing this on someone else’s face – – I have dug deep inside. I now see that I just like the exchange between peoples, of ALL races & am worried that one day, we will become so cold & callous that we don’t extend some physical greeting(s), even to complete strangers, IT’S NICE TO BE HUMAN.

    I’m going to post some sort of a Survey on MySpace & FaceBook to ask how YOU feel comfortable, when greeting strangers, friends, relatives, business greetings, etc. This would really be interesting to me, because I don’t want people using a hand-shake-style as an excuse to not trust other cultures. Bridging gaps is the ONLY way to diffuse racial tendencies. I don’t look at people as being Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red, etc. I LIKE looking at people as being different. Is my culture better than anyone else’s? Hell M.F.’n no – – nor is my “color”, religion, social-status, job, Country, sexual preference or otherwise! I think it’s interesting that when one becomes so bold, cocky &/or arrogant that they come accross as they are holier than thou, you can sometimes bring them to tears, because they’re most likely weak inside & are not really comfortable around other peep’s or inside of their OWN skin.

    How about hugs & kisses on the cheek like in some Countries? It is the warmth of the greeting that can either BREAK DOWN BARRIERS or BUILD A WALL. Men hugging men, I used to be totally uncomfortable with as a CHILD, prior to adolescence, call it insecurity or what-have-you. But now me & my Buddies are totally cool with that. My kissing a close Lady-Friend on the lips &/or the cheek is now a little more difficult, because I’m a happily married man & I most certainly don’t want to give the wrong impression that I’m anything but. (Of course there’s no tongue L.o.L.!)

    Let’s try & get passed all this ignorant garbage & move on to living with other peoples, perhaps it starts by your GREETING! Look me up under the word LEO1WOLF, I’m all over the net. . .


    -Lone Wolf

    Comment by Lone Wolf — December 12, 2009 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  12. P.S. – sorry for my typos & butchery of the English language.

    Comment by Lone Wolf — December 12, 2009 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

  13. You totally missed the point. See White people like writing as ‘experts’ on non-white cultures.

    Comment by Restructure! — December 12, 2009 @ 11:39 pm | Reply

    • o.k. – enlighten me then. I’m open to suggestions.

      Comment by Lone Wolf — December 13, 2009 @ 1:30 am | Reply

  14. @post 11
    what are you talking about?

    Comment by jwbe — December 14, 2009 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

  15. Everything posted was actually very logical.
    But, think on this, what if you were to create a awesome title?
    I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your blog, but suppose you added something to maybe get folk’s attention?

    I mean African American men dont shake hands like that.

    | Stuff White People Say is kinda plain. You could peek at Yahoo’s front page and watch how they write news titles to get viewers to click. You might add a related video or a related picture or two to grab people interested about what you’ve
    written. In my opinion, it might bring your posts a
    little livelier.

    Comment by stretch mark therapy — May 2, 2013 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

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