A small gesture that spoke volumes


Globe and Mail Update

June 5, 2008 at 11:10 AM EDT

It was a small gesture that spoke volumes. As presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama took to the podium in St. Paul, Minn., on Tuesday night, he and his wife locked eyes and gently rapped knuckles.

Until that moment, television audiences had never seen a celebratory fist-pound between a political couple with their eye on the White House. “That’s because you’ve never had a black couple headed to the White House,” says hip-hop culture expert Bakari Kitwana, who teaches political science at the University of Chicago and is the author of Why White Kids Love Hip Hop.

Though common among hip-hop fans, athletes and awkward hockey dads trying to be cool, the move sent the mainstream media scrambling for descriptions that ranged from “knuckle-bump” to “celebratory fist-bump” and “fist to fist thumbs up.”

“Dap” is the term in hip-hop circles. It’s short for dapper and part of a tradition of hand gestures and other non-verbal modes of communication stemming back to the days of slavery, says James Peterson, an English professor who specializes in hip-hop culture at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.

Some observers say Mr. Obama’s comfort with such moves shows he is not the elitist he’s been framed as. “It’s not staged. It’s just fluid,” Mr. Kitwana says. Mr. Obama has dipped into the hip-hop visual lexicon before. After one of the debates, he brushed metaphoric dirt off his shoulder using a dance move popularized by rapper Jay-Z.

Tuesday’s fist-pound was an intensely private moment, Prof. Peterson says. “It gives you a real, keen insight into the interior of their relationship, the love that they have and the equality of their relationship,” he says. “She’s giving him dap.”



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