One day I was standing in the parking lot of my mechanics shop, waiting for my car to get fixed. And this old white South African man arrives. He was a friend of the owner of the shop. He introduces himself, and tells me that he lived in South Africa, during the time of Apartheid. We shook hands, but not like a regular handshake. This white South African, shook my hand like a brother from East Palo Alto California. A ghetto in Northern California, that used to be an all white city in the fifties. But became black, because when black people started to move into the community, white people began to move out. It was called “White flight”. And back the bad old days, it was believed that the property value went down, if there were more than three black families living on the same block. My grandfather was a GI, and he used the GI Bill to buy many homes in the Bay Area. He wanted to intergrate the Bay Area. So once he purchased the homes, he would move black families into his houses, with the promise that they would sign the house back to him, if they ever decided to move out. Getting back to the South African, and the handshake. When I was a kid, we would shake hands, a certain way that was specific to our city, and our people. We would say things like, “Give me five on the black hand side, in the whole, you got soul.” This was decades before fist pounding, became the craze. Now, when I met the white South African decades later. He shook my hand, in the same manner. How could he know this, I thought? It must be a remnant of our African ancestors, left behind during the time of slavery. And somehow, it was able to stay within the culture. Maybe this is how, the different tribes greeted one another. Maybe each tribe, had a certain way of shaking hands. Maybe the Ashanti tribe shook hands this way, or the Igbo tribe shook hands another way. Over four hundred years have passed, and our ancestors, still have influence over our lives. I have a friend, poet Keith Antar Mason who writes, “Black youth, running their hands through their frizzy braids, being more African than they know”. – Lynel Gardner


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