Is the fist-bump a 'low-class' gesture?

President Barack Obama receives a fist-bump fr...

Image of Barack Obama and U.S. soldier doing a fist-bump via Wikipedia

Barack Obama does it. So does Michael Jordan and Pat Buchanan and Georgia State Troopers and the Dalai Lama and Barbara Walters. Even Bill O’Reilly approves of it. The fist bump. Who wouldn’t like this quintessentially American way of greeting another human being. Who wouldn’t revel in the joy of touching knuckles with friends and strangers alike? I’ll tell you who: The man who works as a guard at my son’s after-school program. Yesterday, the guard said he thinks the fist-bump is low-class. He didn’t use the exact words “low class,” but he might as well have. “You wouldn’t bump fists after a job interview,” he told my 8-year-old son and his friend, who had just bumped fists in playful solidarity. “You wouldn’t bump fists with your employer.”

Maybe not. It depends on the employer – though I understood the guard’s point: If you’re trying to land a job in corporate America, and you’ve just spoken with the suit-wearing head of HR, it’s generally not a good idea to raise your right hand and direct it toward the director’s chest area. Not a good idea at all. However, if the job you’re eyeing is, say, one in advertising where you’re pitching beer or sports gear to a mainly twenty-something audience, and you and the HR head had joked about the Budweiser commercials that lampoon fist-bumping – then, by all means, consider doing the fist-bump in the interview room. It might even get you the job, by showing you have a sense of humor and style.

On the other hand, many people share the sentiment of the guard at my son’s after-school program. Last September, after the Dalai Lama fist-bumped with Memphis mayor pro tem Myron Lowery, a man named Ric Weide wrote a post at excoriating the fist bump, saying that it “seems to be the low class, no class way that street thugs greet each other. There is a certain breed of politicians that are some of the lowest class trailer trash scum around. This is their way of greetings! Trash!!!!!”

In 2008, when Obama first came out of the fist-bump closet, his knuckle-touch with Michele Obama caused a national conversation about the practice, with one Fox-TV anchor describing it as a “terrorist fist jab.” Not so, responded the future First Lady, who – in an interview on ABC-TV’s “The View” – said the fist-bump was “the new high five.” I agree with Michelle Obama. Children my son’s age – at least children who are already into professional sports, pop music, and the Obamas’ social mannerisms – do the fist-bump with aplomb and joie de vivre. It’s fun.

The guard who warned my son and his friend about the fist-bump’s potential demerits was projecting a bit too much. Besides, my son won’t be interviewing for a job until at least 2015. Who knows if the fist-bump will even be popular then. For now, the fist-bump is a tame gesture of endearment. It’s also healthier than a hand-shake, which – as Howie Mandel and others have noted – can more easily spread germs from fingers and palms. Healthy. Enjoyable. No surprise there was a movement to make June 3rd National Fist Bump Day. Inevitably, those who fist-bump for the first time find they like it – especially if they let go of their preconceptions. I mean, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan? Who would have thunk. To see the smile of his face (see here) is to see the humanity in someone who got out of his own skin for just a brief moment.

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3 Responses to Is the fist-bump a 'low-class' gesture?

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  2. Thomas Medlicott says:

    Not so much “low class.” I played sports passionately through high school and into college. Then I dropped out of college – temporarily – and lived in LA in the sixties. I don’t even remember when ‘ high fives’ started happening. Non- demonstrative celebration with a few slaps on the back were about it. Bumping knuckles and performing high fives for having a great bowl movement seem extreme. And c’mon – it started as a black man’s gesture, along with those handshakes that were probably culled from some old white man secret society. I’m down with it – I’ll high five and bump knuckles with my ten year old grandson or anyone. But it is for celebration, not for formal greeting. Tom Medlicott

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