Code switching has been a major part of black culture for decades. We’ve had to be chameleons in order to exist in spaces not meant for us. Just to be accepted we have to create a temporary costume to slide through the cracks. I remember sitting in the backseat of the car as a little girl and listening to my mom speak on the phone. By her tone, I knew if it was my grandmother she was talking to, or if it was a business related call. Her professional voice wasn’t her natural hum, it was more high pitched, controlled, and “proper”. What I remember most, is that it was automatic. It could be turned on or off in an instant.
I seemed to adopt this habit until I was about 25. Though it began with a ‘professional’ voice on the telephone, it appeared in other areas of my life. I would straighten my hair for interviews or take my braids down so I didn’t seem too bold or intimidating. As I got older, I decided to stop code switching altogether. A big part of this had to do with non-minorities picking and choosing what they felt was valuable from Black culture. We are a whole race of humans, not just performative animals who are only good for sports, music, body types, and baby hairs.
Code Switching Is the Evidence of Fear
Black people have been “doing what they have to do” to “get to where they want to go” for a long time. I think about my parents who were intentional about giving me a name that could be of any race. They chose my name so that one day I would not lose opportunities or experience prejudice based off of my ‘Black name’. The time has come for us to stop “polishing” our culture. Major corporations are benefiting from our flare, and our heritage, so why shouldn’t we?
In my opinion, the longer we continue to code switch, the longer we will have to. We’ve been hardwired to believe that there is something wrong with our essence. We’ve also become performative and corrective of our nature in a way that is damaging to our mental health. Do you ever wonder why you feel so drained at the end of the week if you are someone who is one or few of the only Black people in your professional setting? It’s likely because you’ve been running the cold, hard exercise of code switching all week.
We Combat Code Switching By Unapologetically Pursuing Our Truest Selves
Our existence is about so much more than making everyone around us more comfortable than ourselves. Is satisfying colleagues worth it, at the cost of our dignity? Often times our vernacular is different from others. Altering that can become exhausting over time. Psychologically, we are telling ourselves that who we are is inappropriate or to be refined. As long as we are carrying ourselves with dignity and respect, code switching simply isn’t necessary anymore.
Being who we are one hundred percent in professional settings can bring feelings of vulnerability. Shifting your personal narrative can assist you in stopping altogether. Code switching puts pressure on Black people to be somewhat robotic and watered down.
Here are some ways you can start avoiding the urge to code switch:
- Correct people who mispronounce your name.
- Continue to take up space in places where you are the only minority.
- Keep the same pitch you keep when you speak outside of work.
- Understand that you are not unprofessional just because you sound different.
- Resist the urge to blend in to make others comfortable.
- Speak out more often about your traditions when people are openly sharing theirs.
- Practice speaking properly if you feel insecure about public speaking in general.
- Embrace your culture to psychologically shift the trauma of code switching all these years.
- Respect the cultures of others, so that they can respect yours.
Let’s Not Exchange Our Authenticity for Adaptability
While there is strength in our ability to adapt in any situation, we must be cognizant of what we are relaying to our mental health. We should all understand that the more we cover up who we are, the more will future generations. There are companies and spaces that will accept you for exactly who you are. You must believe that you have plenty to offer as your truest self. Code switching creates a relationship strain between our self expression and social/professional acceptance.
Minorities have so much more to achieve than being culturally compatible with others. Especially when others do not have to overwork themselves to be culturally compatible with us. An immense amount of exhaustion and resentment toward the workspace can be the result of this grammaticalization. What is diversity if we all sound and look the same? How are we paving the way for those to come after us? Do we want to constantly sacrifice ourselves to matter or be heard? These are questions we should think about when it comes to how we show up to work. Not only is code switching a detriment to us, but to the future of those thereafter.
(Leading Image via @lulamawolf)
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