May 2023

Handshake vs Dap And The Cultural Significance Of AAVE In Sports

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Apparently it's "officially" called African American Vernacular English (AAVE), and it stands at the intersection of sports, society, and cultural expression, leaving an indelible imprint on athletes and beyond. To truly appreciate the significance of AAVE, we must explore its history, examine its impact on influential figures like President Barack Obama famously greeting each member of Team USA differently, and sports icon LeBron James shocking some with how he speaks when not on the NBA clock, and understand the nuanced dynamics of language and identity.

In classrooms and workplaces, AAVE speakers face the challenge of code-switching, maneuvering between their natural dialect and the linguistic expectations imposed by educational and professional institutions.

Deion Sanders exposed the complexity of this when he challenged a reporter to stop switching his voice when the cameras were rolling, highlighting the forces that pull against speakers when the two worlds intersect, having to make a decision on whose world to appease. Eric Bieniemy and DeMeco Ryans, both NFL coaches have also gone viral for switching between daps and handshakes when greeting players.

It is crucial to recognize that understanding a few AAVE words does not equate to fluency or a comprehensive understanding of its complexities. AAVE represents a unique linguistic heritage rooted in historical and cultural contexts, deserving appreciation and respect. Acceptance as being culturally significant, complex, and an independent language of its own is needed while also viewing its speakers as bilingual instead of nonconformists. Non-speakers can gain significant value in educating themselves on its use instead of relying on a lazy but common rejection of its validity.

AAVE extends beyond linguistic patterns to encompass nonverbal expressions that foster cultural connections. The famous Key and Peele skit humorously underscores the significance of handshakes, highlighting the differences between handshakes among white and black communities. Recognizing the cultural significance of greetings, handshakes, and nonverbal cues is an opportunity for curiosity and understanding.

Just as some cultures greet with kisses on the cheek or a down nod, the up nod and dap hold immense meaning within African American communities. Understanding these nuances creates a sense of comfort and belonging, forging deeper connections among individuals.

President Barack Obama's eloquence and ability to navigate different linguistic contexts exemplify the complexity of AAVE. His masterful code-switching showcases the richness of AAVE while adapting to the demands of the political sphere.

Moreover, AAVE's value goes beyond linguistic appreciation; it fosters cultural understanding and empathy. Acknowledging the diverse ways in which people communicate, greet, and express themselves allows for a more inclusive and accepting society. Just as some languages use different greetings or gestures, the intricate language of AAVE and its cultural significance should be celebrated and understood by all.

African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in sports and society is a tapestry woven with language, identity, and cultural connections. Recognizing the complexities of AAVE and appreciating its cultural significance is essential for fostering inclusivity and understanding.

We must appreciate how AAVE enriches linguistic diversity and deepens cultural connections. Embracing the nuances of AAVE, from greetings to handshakes, allows us to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment where individuals feel comfortable, understood, and at home.

Especially with the cultural clashes that often occur in sport.

Issa Hall, Esq

Issa has founded multiple ventures, is an author, and founding partner of Hall & Dixon law firm, with over a decade of experience in tech and law.

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