Accepting African Mores

Wallace Terry
Wallace Terry
Wallace Terry was an award-winning journalist, news commentator and bestselling author distinguished for his coverage of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Terry is pictured here with a helicopter gunner in South Vietnam - 1967. | Photo: Janice Terry | Link | Wallace Terry, War, Viet Nam, African American, Civil Rights, Gun,

African American Cultural Slang has Gained Acceptance

African American cultural slang has gained acceptance over what was formerly white (Caucasian) disdain and contempt in a way that is refreshing to me personally, but is so subtle that I think no one until now has bothered to point it out.

I recall being stationed in Korea in the U.S. Army 40 years ago and the small Korean village I visited on my off time was segregated into two areas, African American (black) bars on one side of the village, and those frequented by whites on the other side. The African American off-duty soldiers of that time and place had a tendency to dress in garish clothing, for example, velvet pants and vest in a riot of wild colors, and silver chain around the neck or other body adornment, while the white soldiers mainly wore jeans and a plain shirt with an army coat over it.

The African American soldiers would greet each other with (what was to us) a bewildering combination of hand gestures designed to demonstrate solidarity as brothers in a system that many of them felt and with good reason was racist against them. They would bump fists and clasp hands many times as a form of greeting. They would say to each other while they were clasping and slapping hands, "Hey brother. Hey brother!"

My white companions could not understand this ritual and having no experience being a black person in the U.S., mocked and ridiculed it. After all, we had been children in a fully segregated country just 15 years before in the 1950s.

African Americans traditionally faced substandard schooling, housing and jobs in those days. The only blacks who ever appeared on TV were Amos and Andy, or a butler or maid.

Consider today.

I was standing near two white guys last week and they were young, in their twenties. One tapped with a clenched fist the other's clenched fist and said in a friendly greeting, "Hey bro!" Bro was an African American slang greeting for "brother."

How did this happen? This greeting, formerly mocked by whites, had gained acceptance.

There were early hinting signs.

The 1968 movie Bullitt which starred Steve McQueen, was a hugely successful film in which McQueen raced his car (using stunt doubles) in downtown San Francisco chasing a crook.

A Caucasian girl I knew at the time (we were 18) had grown up in a safe, suburban, segregated neighborhood and had an upscale life, housing, food, schools, all the advantages many African Americans did not. She described one of the movie's stars, Jacquelin Bisset, being angry at McQueen in the film. She said slowly in a drawn-out manner for greater impact. "She (Bisset) was uptight'with'him! (McQueen)."


This was a word from the inner city.

She was trying to appear street smart and hip.

Most people don't want to think of themselves as elitist, pampered, rich, spoiled, snobbish''even the rich. Most of us don't like to think of ourselves as racist''even if we are.

Two of the principal reasons African American customs and speech have gained acceptance are because of sports and pop music. African Americans have had huge positive impacts on both. Like the Irish of the 19th century, African Americans turned to sports 60 years ago because it was one of the few areas open for them to excel.

We now copy the way these sports stars talk and act. Recently even the North Koreans hosted and heaped lavish praise on two African American basketball stars in the closed-off hermit kingdom.

In pop music, everyone from Elvis to the Beatles copied the music of earlier black singers including Howlin' Wolf, who was loved by the Rolling Stones, and Big Mama Thornton, whose rendition of "Hound Dog" never gained the wide acceptance Elvis's later copied version did.

While these achievement were being made, white, segregated, suburbia, which in the 1960s fled the crime and perceived decay of the inner city, produced little in the way of cultural creativity and instead often came to represent vapid sterility and impotent conformity.

I think it's ironic and fitting that people who looked down on other people would come to talk and act like the people they had once looked down upon.

Comment on Disqus

Comment on Facebook

Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:08 PM EDT | More details


©2017 AND Magazine, LLC
5 Columbus Circle, 8th Floor
New York, New York 10019 USA

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written permission from AND Magazine corporate offices. All rights reserved.