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