THE NOD

THE NOD

From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

The Nod

True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable.

Dave Tyson Gentry

I got it this week while attending a workshop at the University of Iowa. I hadn’t gotten it in such a long time; it refreshed me, the way a cool douse of rain in summer, the first lick of a Popsicle, a smile from a baby refreshes.

The nod.

It came from a gentleman about five years my senior. His russet face was splattered with tiny brown freckles like my grandmother’s. He offered it to me as we passed each other on the stairs.

I did not know him. I had no idea if he was an instructor or student or the parent of a student. I didn’t know if he was a maintenance man or a scholar on loan from another university.

But I knew the nod.

I knew it from working in corporate America for some twenty-plus years. It’s the acknowledgment African Americans of my generation give in passing when we don’t know each other, yet do. We don’t know each other by name, age, social security number or any other demographic you could select on a page or check in a box. We know each other through mutual troubles, collective struggles, shared triumphs.

Once when I was running an errand at work with my coworker, she noticed the nod.

“Do you know all of those people?” she asked.

The quip at the tip of my tongue was a popular phrase of the time: “It’s a black thang. You wouldn’t understand.”

I didn’t say it, though. Instead, I just said, “No,” and kept my black thang to myself. But it truly is a black thang—an African American thang.

There’s reverence in that thang, that Black Thang. That nod.

There is respect, reciprocity and recollection as long as the middle passage. That nod remembers that before there were suits and paychecks, there were chains and marches. Before there were fringe benefits and paid time off, there were sit-ins and freedom rides. Before there was EEO, affirmative action and sensitivity training, there was the lash.

There are black codes in that chin. The amalgam of Martin and Malcolm is in that gesture. There are big black fists saluting in Mexico City in that movement. That nod.

The kids nowadays have an up nod—a quick jerk from the bottom to the top. It’s hip like, “What’s happenin’? What’s up?” I like ours better. It moves the same way a prayer moves, down toward the soul, toward the Earth, toward the heart. It’s slower, more dip than scoop as if we’re laying something down rather than yanking it up.

The nod is a signal, an acknowledgment. It answers yes, yes, yes to unasked questions: Were you there when it became illegal to discriminate? Do you remember when they wouldn’t hire us? Was it hard for you to climb the corporate ladder?

It is the celebration of an incredible feat. A monumental undertaking. That, despite everything . . . we’ve made it this far.

This week, on the stairs, I returned the man’s nod and smiled, knowing that even on an Iowa campus, like in corporate America, our connections to each other thrive.

Kim Louise

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