07
May
13

Secret Life of the “High 5”

It’s not secret actually, because it’s on wikipedia, but it’s just a classic case of how the richness of the world can really overwhelm you when bother to focus on any one part of it.

Just reading the bare facts of how the high five supposedly originated brings to mind all sorts of questions. It probably originated in sports — that seems likely, but then one wonders how essential the “high” part of the “high 5” is. Is the high five somehow different than the low five? Before you answer, know that the low five was an African American tradition that clearly came before white people. Did white culture have to make the high five “high” to sanitize it and make it uniquely white or appropriate to white people.

And how does this fit into a pattern of cultural appropriation (I would love to read some who seriously took up the issue of cultural appropriation, the world over, from the Elgin marbles to whatever else — embarrassing that I don’t have that many examples)? After all, think of the history of rap, jazz, and today, the question about the N* word. Is it ok if white people appropriate that too, even if they do in fact intend to use it in it positive valence?

Also, consider the SEXUAL history of the high five. One of the most documented claimants to be the first high five was between Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke. Burke transformed the sign into a gay pride expression in San Fran.

In one sense, one thinks that its wonderful and happy that a cultural sign for gay pride is taken on by the wider culture. After all, this type of diffusion is how progress is made in respecting various groups. But when one uses the word “appropriation” one can see a different side to these things.

Endlessly interesting, was the high five taken from gays and blacks, or was it adopted as an affirmation of the activity and indirectly, those who generated it. Without knowing the whole history, I would wager its the latter. There is nothing better for progress then to have a disenfranchised group become “cool.” The risk is that the group will be exploited by cultural forces (im sure some black artists have had this happen to them), but on the whole, I think sex and cool often work for the better in these situations (think of how important it was for civil rights when the supreme court said that black people and white people could date. In history, nothing brings races together like physical attraction. This too can be abused, but on the whole I’m high on sexual and cultural mixing.)

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