It's a simple nod.
You make eye contact then tilt your head up. In many instances, you follow with a rhetorical, "What's up?"
Invariably, the person on the receiving end does the same. And then you move on.
For most of my life, I've employed this greeting with other black men.
Don't get me wrong. I greet most people. I am a Southerner, born and bred, so unlike in the bustling streets of New York or Boston, we take time here to say hello.
The salutation I share with black men, however, is unique in style and deep in significance. It's masculine, largely nonverbal and, dare I say, pretty cool.
Once, while walking down Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, a white friend witnessed this exchange and asked:
"Do you know him?"
"But you spoke to him?"
"I see black guys do that all the time. What's that about?"
I just smiled, because what I share with black men embodies a cultural phenomenon that defies simple explanation. It's like a fraternity.
Trust me, we didn't all receive an NAACP memo that stated, "Greet your fellow brother in this manner." It's not a decision that came from some grand gathering of black people. It started long before the Million Man March.
It's just what many of us do. One of my black friends explained it to a white Florida State University graduate: "If you were in Germany and you saw someone with an FSU T-shirt, wouldn't you speak?"
My black friends describe it as an acknowledgement, and in that brief moment, we acknowledge a lot.
First and foremost, I believe it's our way of acknowledging respect. Yes, we respect all men and women, but when we see one of our own, the greeting simply says, "Yeah, I'm glad you're out here trying to make it. I'm trying to make it, too. Keep on keeping on."
Yes, you can say that much with a simple nod.
A friend told me he thinks it's an acknowledgement of loneliness.
When you wake up every day dealing with the realization you're a minority, you draw comfort from seeing someone who looks like you.
For me, loneliness may be too strong a word. I went to a Catholic grade school for eight years and most of those years I was the only black person in my class. I still call many people from those days my friend and, for the most part, I never felt lonely.
But it helps to know you have a compatriot who faces the challenges unique to your race. And believe it or not, running into a black man by chance doesn't happen nearly as often as you think.
I also think righteousness and humility are motivations.
I was blessed to grow up middle class and privileged with two loving parents, but that doesn't make me better than someone from a more meager background, and I would never want them to think that.
I don't reserve my exchange solely for black professionals. It's not bourgeois. I'm just as apt to greet the blue-collar brother as I am the guy in the business suit.
It's just the right thing to do.
In the final assessment, a certain mystery surrounds this pleasantry. And that makes me smile.
For a connection between black males to organically develop means that while the bond we share can't be fully defined, it's as strong as it's always been.
That's all I'm saying.