Today, I was walking down one of the hospital halls and as I reached the intersection, a Black man who was walking by gave me The Nod and what seemed to be a peace sign.
There was no one else behind me. Yes, I checked. I gave him a sort-of-nod back impulsively and wondered if he nodded at me because I was Black, a sister, or if he was perhaps in an especially good mood nodding at everyone.
Growing up, it took me a while to realise that Black people in America greet each other in situations where they would otherwise be ignored.
At Wellesley, I was deemed unfriendly because I wouldn’t acknowledge members of Ethos, the organization for women of African descent, on campus. The African women I had befriended who had successfully bridged the African-American Black divide would tell me in confidence that their African-American friends didn’t think I was friendly. But I was not nodding my head at any other stranger I encountered on my walks around campus so it made no difference to me that the stranger was Black like me. That plus my resting mean mug face with my thoughts in the clouds did not help.
Actually, back then it wasn’t as much a nod as it was a smile. And while it’s generally not nice to not smile back to anyone who smiles at you why fault me for being oblivious. I was an equal opportunity ignorer. Thus, I found the complaints of the African-Americans behind my back to be petty. I didn’t even know who they were and they certainly didn’t know me, but already they were branding me. Certainly, were I not to receive a return receipt of an acknowledgement that I had sent to a fellow human being, I wouldn’t get my panties all up in a bunch. I just couldn’t understand what the big deal was.
Now I know that The Nod says “all the best to you, fellow Black person that I didn’t expect to run into here”. Now I know that it is a privilege to receive it. That said, I still don’t go around giving it as it’s still odd to me, but I at least acknowledge it with a sort-of-nod or a sort-of-smile.