Tag Archives: promise

Spit Handshake Promise


This piece is collected in a casual interview setting around a cup of coffee. My informant (BA) was born in Lille, France, and moved to California in 2002 with her husband for their jobs at Caltech. She has a Master in Human Resources and Detection of High Potentials, is a mother of two teenage girls, loves to garden and go on hikes, and is overall a very energetic and happy woman. 

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (BA) and interviewer.

Interviewer: How do you keep an important promise?

BA: Ah, so, when you want to keep your promise, the best way to do it is to spit on the ground or to spit in your hand before a handshake. And if you spit, its already so gutsy that its sure that you’ll keep it [the promise].

Interviewer: And you do this with what kind of people, your friends or with anyone?

BA: Ah, no, I only do it with my friends. I can’t do it with people from my work or people for who I have high respect. It’s only with people from my family or my friends.

Interviewer: And where did you learn this from?

BA: Everyone around me did it growing up, so I just picked it up. I still do it to this day. It’s how I keep my promises.


In many cultures, spitting on your hands represents cleaning them, therefore spitting before a handshake is like making a “clean deal” or a “clean promise” that you will not soil. With our hygiene standards rising, I am not certain this practice will continue. The thought of spit being “clean” is not common today, therefore the meaning behind spitting on a handshake might be lost with time. Personally, I would politely refuse if someone offered to do this with me. I would rather a clean Pinky Swear.

“On blood”: Los Angeles Inner-City Gang Saying


Due to some self-incrimination, the informant wishes to remain anonymous, and thus I will only use his first initial. A is a 22-year-old, African American male who grew up in Southern California. He dropped out of high-school and did not attend college. He now lives in Southern California and works as a mechanic.

Background info:

A and I grew up in a similar environment. We met when we were both around 12 and 13 in the Los Angeles foster care system. Because foster-parents rarely kept track of the children and usually did not keep them fed or clothed, A has been heavily involved in gang-related activities since I met him. His home environment was abusive, and he was subjected to drugs early in life, as well.


Because A and I lived in a few foster-homes together, we have a shared tragedy, and thus a bond where he felt comfortable to talk to me. I invited him over to discuss how he had been since I last saw him, and we eventually began discussing the state of current Hip-Hop music. This piece is a phrase popular in his vocabulary, and, for context, the following is a transcript of the conversation we had that led to the phrase being said. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Have you heard the diss tracks between Joyner Lucas and Tory Lanez?”

A: “Yeah, I heard ‘em. I can’t believe this fool Tory think he can just come into the rap game and claim to be the best. Joyner clowned on this fool on his own track.”

J: “Yeah, his song was fire. He’s actually pretty lyrical, as well. I’m glad he and Eminem did a track together. I thought for sure they’d get an Emmy for it.”

A: “Man, you know Eminem is done. That man ain’t getting any more awards – his whole career was built on being the only white boy who could spit. The hype has been over for years. Ain’t nobody out there listening to him, only the white people who want to think they apart of it.”

J: “Do you think Eminem should get praise for his lyricism, though?”

A: “On blood, if Eminem tried to blow today, he wouldn’t sell a single track. Half the stuff he be saying goes over everybody’s head, man.”


Growing up in the poor areas of Los Angeles, without help from home, a lot of children and young teens end up joining gangs. The gangs become their new families, and people would die for that. A was one of these kids and ended up joining a subset of the Bloods gang. I was familiar with this when I met him. Because he was so young, the gang influence became a major part of his life. “On blood”, or “On the blood”, is a common street phrase among Blood gang members. It is typically used as a promise or swear, meaning “I swear to the Blood gang”, like when people say, “I swear to God” or “I swear on my mother’s grave”. Swearing to something important represents a promise that you would never break without breaking faith with the thing you swear to. This phrase is common because the culture of gang life is to value the gang over everything else, even religion or one’s own life.