detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Sunday, November 17, 2002


: . Talk to the Hand:

From Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry by Philip D. Morgan (597):
    Almost certainly there were distinctive African American gestures, most of which went unnoticed by contemporary whites. However, one body motion did register an impression. A Virginian observed that his African slave Jack “avoids looking in the Face of them he is speaking to as much as possible,” and a South Carolinian noted that his creole slave boy “occasionally holds his head away.” This aversion of the head is a common gesture among African Americans. A visitor to the British West Indies in the early nineteenth century observed that when “Negroes quarrel, they seldom look each other in the face.” The “down looks” that masters commonly ascribed to slaves in both Lowcountry and Chesapeake and that they interpreted as surliness might have owed more to a widespread African imperative of avoiding eye contact in hostile situations. The tenaciousness of this pose is suggested by its continued existence among blacks today. Thus, on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, a child will commonly turn his or her head to one side when rebuked by a parent. More generally, it has been argued that black audiences in the United States indicate rejection by turning their heads away, often with eyes closed.
    A closely related set of gestures, commonly referred to as “cut-eye” and “suck-teeth” are well known among blacks throughout the Caribbean and the United States. Intended to communicate hostility and disapproval, “cut-eye” consists of a hostile glare, followed by a “cut” of the eyes downward and across the body, and ending with another hostile glance, often with the head turned away, to the accompaniment of a loud “suck-teeth,” or a drawing of air through the teeth to produce a sucking sound, a gesture of anger and annoyance.

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