Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Black People's Nod

Many years ago I introduced a white friend to the black people's nod. After I explained it to him he saw it every where. Here's how it works. When I was a child I noticed that black people nodded their heads at one another as though they knew the person passing by them. I originally thought it was familiarity and something old people (read adults) did. I went through my teens and twenties occasionally seeing the nod but not often. It was the sixties and I was definitely not traveling in circles where people understood the nod let alone actually did it.

As I grew older the nod became more important to me, especially when I would find myself one of only a few black people at an event of some kind. The nod seemed to say to me "Don't worry. We're in this together. I'll watch out for you and you watch out for me." At least that's how I chose to interpret it. Throughout my adult years I've found myself nodding more and more often. I suspect it has something to do with getting older. It gives me a sense of calm and joy, especially when a younger person nods back at me. Though they may not even realize it but somewhere along the line a parent or grandparent introduced them to the nod, without explanation.  They adopted it without even realizing it and so the tradition continues on.

I have seen so many customs and traditions among the new immigrants and often wish it were possible to just walk up to someone and ask "Why do you do that?" but in our present hypersensitive society such behavior is forbidden. I recently saw on TV that Hindu's were celebrating one of their holy days by making all kinds of sparkly doo-dads and then tossing them in the local river. Unfortunately the river was not the Ganges but water off Long Island Sound. The neighbors were furious when all that "trash" washed back up on shore. After some of the usual rhetoric there was a compromise in which the Hindu's gathered together on shore and cleaned up the water when the ceremony was over. I think some of their neighbors pitched in. A young man said it was time that the old and new found ways to coexist. Maybe all cultures have a nod of some sort.  Maybe they'd share it with the rest of us.