First Person: The Baracka Bump

By Winston Burton
Thursday January 15, 2009 - 06:34:00 PM

In the past few months I’ve noticed that, when greeting each other, more and more people are doing the Baracka Fist Bump. For those of you who didn’t see the Baracka Bump on TV, let me describe it. After he finally won the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack was on stage thanking everyone when his wife, Michelle, came up to join him. Instead of greeting each other with a hug or kiss, they gently bumped their closed fists together. It was more subdued than a high five and much more personal than a handshake. It was a greeting as well as an eloquent sign of victory. The gesture seemed to capture the spirit of the Obama campaign, and incidentally I believe that the fist bump may lead to something very important: the possible elimination of an outdated and unsanitary tradition—the handshake. 

How many times have you had to make the choice between shaking your car mechanic’s hand or perhaps offending because you refused to shake? I often think my mechanic is challenging my loyalty, and so I give in even though his hands are occasionally soiled. I’m also wary of shaking medical professionals’ hands. Who knows how well those “scrubs” have scrubbed? And there are those people who have just sneezed, coughed or left a bathroom and want to shake.  

Then there’s the awkwardness of how hard to squeeze when shaking hands. Some people make major judgments, like whom to hire or even marry, on the firmness or lack thereof in a handshake. I once heard the perfect handshake described as similar to holding a bird. “If you squeeze too tight you crush the bird, too loose and the bird flies away.” Throw in sweaty or clammy palms, and fingers that have been who knows where, and you’ll have to agree that this handshaking ritual needs to be phased out. Perhaps a small thing like reducing handshaking could have a huge impact on hygiene, given that we’re constantly contaminating each other and spreading diseases such as the common cold, the flu, and who knows what else!  

Of course Barack and his wife didn’t start the fist bump, just as Al Gore  

didn’t invent the Internet (or did he?); they’re just making it popular. Some of Barack’s opponents even claimed that their fist bump was some kind of signal or part of a sinister plot. Lately, I’ve seen the Baracka Bump used on TV shows, in movies, and by athletes, sportscasters, politicians, and even high school students. I also hear that the comic boy-hero Spiderman is fist bumping in an upcoming issue. I hope that next we will be seeing world leaders greeting each other with the bump—I can’t wait! 

If I wasn’t convinced before, I think Barack may become an international hero for this reason alone. By the way, if you greet me and I don’t shake your hand, don’t take it personally; it’s a health care issue. Let’s bump instead! 



Winston Burton is a Berkeley resident.