Shake Ups to Wake Ups

Dudes hug. Simple as that. We–as in black men ‘we’–use euphemisms like “shake up” instead of hug, but just because the act begins with a handshake doesn’t negate the fact it ends in a kind of hug. Nevertheless, hellos and goodbyes at parties and get-togethers are punctuated by fellas hugging ladies, ladies hugging ladies, and fellas shaking up with fellas as manly as possible.

Avoidance of the word ‘hug’ might have everything to do with my age bracket, the continued focus on the masculinity of black men among black men and the black community, or a combination of the two…plus other reasons. Either way, the variation of man-hugs, for me, began when my teenage brother and his friends taught seven-year-old me that there was an alternative way for black guys to shake hands.

The degrees of involvement in dude-on-dude shake-ups include but are not limited to the following:

1.) hand-clap, hand-clasp, pressing of the thumbs together, pulling away of the hands while both dudes are about at arm’s length (not unlike a micro thumb-wrestling match that ends in a draw), then release

2.) micro thumbwrestle, but before pulling away the hands, you lean into the other dude and gently press your shoulder to his chest and he does the same (similar to how women can give sideways hugs when they don’t want to press their breasts against you, often due to the level of comfort that have with you), then release

3) micro thumbwrestle, low-comfort sideways hug, bring the free arm around for a half-hug, then release (see figure 1)

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Figure 1

The degree chosen often depends on the relationship between dudes or the amount of time between hang outs. Dudes who see each other weekly may keep it to #1s, whereas dudes who haven’t seen each other in months or more are more likely to use #3. But a change soon cometh, for me at least.

A little over a month away from the big Three Five, I’m noticing my deepening appreciation for relationships. I’ve always cherished family and friends, but there are some men who have been entirely too instrumental for a handshake-prologued, one-armed, bro greet. These people have been fixtures in my life; fathers and brothers in blood and spirit who are partially responsible for who I am. I love these dudes. They deserve better.

Example: a week or so ago, my best friend’s step father, who we affectionately call, Kermit (not because of all of the iced tea he drinks or his penchant for staying out of other peoples’ business) called me to help put an air conditioner in. It was one of those joints that still uses freon and weighs fifty pounds or more. When his wife, who I affectionately call, momma, called me to see if I could come help, I was just leaving my actual mother’s house. The timing was perfect. Doing chores at my momma’s house when momma called to ask me to lend a hand. When I got over there, I hugged them both. We chatted, moved furniture (ironically, I did have iced tea), and before I left, I hugged them both. They are my second parents. Their influence is invaluable. The first time I talked to a girl on the phone it was on their land line. So when any of the guys from that family see me, they get hugs.

Other example: my Godsons and nephews get hugs. I pick them up. I squish them good. Because being a black man is powerful. Being a loving black man is even more so. Gestures like hugs teach boys the importance of showing affection to people you care about.

So now, I’m less likely to hold back. Life is sacred. It’s too precious to stay hung up on foolish bro codes of conduct. Case in point, my groomsmen–brothers in blood and in spirit. On the day of my wedding, them dudes got real hugs.

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Be good.

PS–do a gif search for black dudes hugging and see if you see as many as heartfelt as Cory and Shawn…

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Through the Shade

I have a confession to make: I’m light skinned. It’s not so much my color that I must confess, but my childhood beliefs about light skinneditude. I was ten years old at most. My brother–nine years my senior–was driving me, maybe to Mickey D’s or maybe to the comic book store. As we sat at a red light not far from home, a young girl crossed the street in front of us. In that teasing tone of older-brotherness, he elbowed me older-brotherishly and said something like, “There you go,” as in, “You’re old enough to start liking girls, now, and she’s perfect for you.” I looked up and my response was, “Naw. She’s too dark.” Yup. Seriously. Without hesitation, my brother–who shares my complexion–corrected me with something like, “There’s no such thing as too dark. Black people come in all shades, man.”

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I was embarrassed. I remember almost crying. I thought my brother–a person I looked up to, who was already doing me a favor letting me ride in the front seat of his car, carting me around during his prime teenage years–was disappointed in me and my feelings about color. His older-brotherly chiding became a lesson in race that, unbeknownst to me, hibernated within me until I was a teenager myself and reawakened when someone called me high-yellow or white as an insult, or later when I heard jokes about light-skinned niggas being in style thanks to Boris and Shamar. (enter, stage left, Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, and Tyson Beckford)

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It was such a small moment, at that stop light, and yet such a defining one.

I wouldn’t say my response to my brother necessarily stemmed from self hatred or internalized racism, either. I, in my childishness, remember thinking alike people ended up together. For instance, tall people married tall people, short people married short people, big boned people married big boned people, and so on. Naturally, that meant dark-skinned folks must want to be with their “own kind” and therefore so should I. I don’t think I hated people of darker shades, I just thought there were societal rules that adults followed and adolescent me was on a need-to-know basis.

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I wasn’t exposed to many of the external factors that could influence how I treated people of different shades at that age. However, I do remember the kids-will-be-kids-name-calling being harsher for the darker kids in my class than for us lighter folks. “Dozens” jokes about glowing in the dark didn’t bite as much as being called “charcoal-blistered” (pronounced “choco-blisted”) or “African booty scratcher.” Those just sounded more hurty to me. Were I different kid, those distinctions could have manifested in different ways, as in the types of people I dated or who I befriended in college. (insert diatribe about black sorority and fraternity traits and prerequesite practices here.)

I’m grateful that I was raised in the kind of environment that didn’t encourage that additional layer of self-division. Feeling separate from society as a minority is one thing I was aware of growing up. Feeling separate within my own community, thankfully, was a stage of adolescence I got to skip.

Because when you think about it, I am of African heritage. On occasion, my booty does itch. So guess what that makes me?

Be good.

(images borrowed from @honeyvybz tumblr)