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Column: The Meaning of the Dap Today

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By Brian Angus | bangus@radford.edu

The Dap.

If you are not familiar with the name, I guarantee you have seen people exchanging it around campus.

In its most basic form, it is a type of handshake. There is no one way to dap; however, the most common variation that I see around campus is a slapping of the hands, followed by the hands sliding down till the fingertips meet, then a curling in of the fingers till the hands can clench on each other.

The History of the Dap

According to the Folklife section of the Smithsonian’s website, the dap began in the late 1960s. Black soldiers started it during the Vietnam War. At this same time, there was racial conflict in American cities. The dap became a symbol of unity for the African American community, in war, and back home.

It is believed that dap is an acronym for “dignity and pride.”

Today, you see many people of every race giving dap. Although, it is still almost entirely guys using the handshake. While it may happen, I have never seen girls or women dap, nor been told by any girl or women that they dap.

The Meaning It Gives Today

The dap still carries much meaning today. However, that meaning can vary from person to person.

To me, it is a symbol of respect and brotherhood. When I dap someone up, it shows that I respect them, and I feel that they respect me as well. I see the dap as the entrance ticket to my time with that person. It is the first thing I do when I see my friends.

I wanted to see how other people felt about the handshake, so I asked them what they feel when they dap.

“I feel an emotional connection with the person I’m dapping with. It makes us feel unified,” Alex Russell, a freshman Health and Exercise Science major, said.

It seems that after forty years the dap is still a symbol of unity to people.

“When I dap someone it feels more like an interaction, like we know each other, like this is someone you know, you can mess with, this is somebody you can relate with,” freshman Biology major Evans Adams said.

I also wanted to see whom people found it acceptable to dap with. For example, do you need to be friends with the person or would you dap people you don’t know?

On that topic, Adams said, “If I know you I’m gonna dap you, and if I don’t know you I’ll just give you a regular handshake till the point that I know you, then I will dap you.”

I also asked if there was anyone who it would be unacceptable to dap with.

“I feel like if you do it with someone like a professor that’s just disrespectful honestly,” freshman Journalism major Steven Fierro said.

When greeting a professor, it’s probably better to keep to the simple handshake. While the dap may convey a certain message to your friends, it could carry the wrong message in a professional setting.

“I pretty much dap everyone I know, or I’ve come in contact with once or twice, but I feel like there’s a different type of dapping depending on the type of person,” said freshman Business major Dawit Amare.

It depends on the person you are with, and the context you are in.

I find it interesting how little the dap is talked about. It’s just something we do. What’s more interesting is that even though we don’t give it much thought, we know how it makes us feel, and from everyone I heard from, it makes us feel good.

Just by moving our hand a certain way we can make a person feel respected and connected to us. I believe that is a fantastic power to have on hand.

Photo Credit: (Brian Angus | The Tartan; rawpixel | Unsplash)

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