Distractions have become a universal demand as the need to quarantine, and social distance remains a stark reality for the world. One such distraction that’s picked up steam recently is the Code Switch podcast by NPR. This extremely inclusive podcast started as a blog in 2013. Three years later, it transformed into a successful podcast that talks about everything pertaining to race. For podcast veterans, or those interested in social activism podcasts, people of color podcasts, or anything in between, this podcast may be of high interest.
Many of you may be wondering, what is code-switching?
Code-switching (linguistically) signifies “the alternating or mixed use of two or more languages, especially within the same discourse.”
At the same time, it also is defined as “the modifying of one’s behavior, appearance, etc., to adapt to different sociocultural norms.” For the Black community, code-switching to adapt to the Euro-American “Standard English” is a frequent shift, like turning on a light switch.
Both forms of code-switching are very common among Black people. For instance, many Black people may find themselves constantly switching from African American Vernacular English or AAVE to speak proper “Standard English.”
In terms of behavior, code-switching is used and manifested through appearances for many of us. Changing our style of hair to look more professional and monitoring other accessories such as jewelry, i.e., hoop earrings, which also ties into the larger issues of cultural appropriation, are just examples of the changes that are constantly apart of switching between your primary culture, and the dominant white culture, which is inherently anti-black.
Why do people code-switch, and why is it important to understand it from a non-white perspective?
Code-switching is used for people in a non-dominant culture to ‘fit in’ or assimilate as much as possible to the majority.
There are positives to code-switching, such as being able to navigate swiftly through white spaces or using it to preserve your own cultural and intersectional energy. However, it can also be extremely damaging to Black culture and all its uniqueness. Unfortunately, in many cases, this has led to a lot of internalized racism amongst Black communities. Code-switching forces us to hide our Black culture. In turn, we suppress our heritage and history while subsequently amplifying the voices that silence us.
We are socialized as a community to speak “properly,” denoting that what this culture has as a means of communication is improper, and even further, unprofessional. In many cases, especially with the recent social uproar on “what is a professional hairstyle” and “what is not,” we are socialized that our hair – which to some is the embodiment of their Blackness and the Black identity is inherently inappropriate and not welcomed in the workplace.
In any instance, getting labeled is not a favorable option. The fact that Black people are constantly held to a standard of professionalism distinct from their white coworkers contributes a lost sense of identity. Not to mention, the constant stress of having to live up to the label of “professionalism,” which almost always conjures up images of whiteness, feels like an impossible task and can seriously harm mental health. It can feel extremely exhausting to constantly have to try to force yourself into a mold that was built with the intention to exclude you.
So where do we go from here?
Dismantling anti-blackness and racism in professional settings is a great first step, but we’ve still a long way to go. Creating open dialogues in the workplace and other institutions about diversity and the pressures of conforming to a toxic environment is also a great way to push the needle further. Tackling oppressive frameworks should remain a top priority.
Every year, our country increases the percentage of nonwhite people, yet we see a small difference in positions of power, six-figure jobs, or exclusive organizations and institutions. We need to stop focusing so much on conformity and recognize the beauty in our differences. By conforming, we are blocking our individual beauty from being seen, valued, and appreciated.
While these conversations are uncomfortable, they will lead to greater inclusivity in the workplace and a better environment for all. Recognizing how code-switching plays a larger role in both internalized and institutionalized racism in our country is essential in ending implicit biases.
The conversation doesn’t end here. This article is the first of many in my series of daily black experiences. If you’re interested in other articles related to this, be sure to return to the Women’s Republic regularly and look out for future works in my ‘Black Lived Experiences’ series!
- “Code-Switching.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/code-switching.
- “Code Switch.” NPR, NPR, www.npr.org/podcasts/510312/codeswitch.
- DeMarco, Jacqueline. “Why Is Everyone Talking About Code-Switching?” The Everygirl, 13 Dec. 2018, theeverygirl.com/why-is-everyone-talking-about-code-switching/.
- Nordquist, Richard. “Standard English (SE).” ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/standard-english-1692137.
- Thompson, Matt. “Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch.” NPR, NPR, 13 Apr. 2013, www.npr.org/\sections/codeswitch/2013/04/13/177126294/five-reasons-why-people-code-switch.