• Tanaya Eyvette

Code-Switching | It's real, and we need to talk about it


I was watching some DL Hughley videos and listening to some podcasts, and they mentioned here and there about 'Code Switching'. They didn't use the words exactly, but they explained it in a way that defined code switching. So as I sat at my desk to write, I decided to explain the ways that most of us (usually PoC, but more specifically, Black folx) code switch. But first, let's define Code Switching:

CODE SWITCHING:  the act of altering how you express yourself based on your audience

We've all witnessed code switching, whether it was our parents, friends, grandparents or even yourself. Have you ever picked up the phone at work and turned on your "professional voice"? (In my culture, they call it your "white voice") How about when you go to church, do you start pretending to be holier than you are, or do you talk in parables to prove you know the Bible and you belong? Or do you change the way you speak once you walk through those doors to show that you aren't as bad a "sinner" as the rest of the world?

Photo by Quaz Amir on Pexels.com

Well, I'm here to tell you that we all code switch in some way. However Black folx, and other PoC alike, code switch the most. Bear with me as I give you a brief and general idea as to why:

America is a White Country

Here's where I'll probably lose majority of my [white] readers. Unfortunately, the ones that stop reading are the ones that need to hear this the most. But I digress.

Yes, America is a melting pot, as so many people like to call it. But the laws are defined and altered to fit the white (cys-male) ego. How? Since the early days of colonization in this country, white men have forced non-whites to conform to their way of thinking, living, breathing, and speaking.

Because for them, white is right.

If you didn't conform, you could be exiled or put to death. Have we learned nothing of Indian/Native history in this country? To survive, a lot of us did exactly what was asked of us to be seen as "civilized" and not a threat to them (aka white folks). Unfortunately, that has carried over to 2019.

Black men are still seen as a threat to society, Black women are still seen as "angry" when we express through passion. Non-English speaking American folks are still being mistreated for not speaking English instead of embracing their languages/cultures that make America such a "melting pot." We are still taught/brainwashed to think white. And that brings me to my final point:

We Code Switch to Not Be Seen As an Other

I know, it's crazy right? We talk so that we can be accepted instead of on the outside because we've always had this mindset that being anything remotely close to "whiteness" is the goal. We are brainwashed to think this, and most of the time we don't even realize our code switching.

When I walk into work, I have to act as if I am a smiling fool every time I walk in those doors. Even when I am irritated at an action that someone does, I can't even show passion or frustration because then they feel "uncomfortable" around me. This has actually been said to me by my own supervisor. Yet, Becky is yelling at everyone in the office and no one so much as bats an eye. I am shown automatically that I am the "other" and that my actions are more closely watched because everyone has this subconscious (and sometimes conscious) thought that I am anything but accepted fully.

We also code switch to be taken seriously. Some of us, women especially, code-switch to seem more dominant or docile (depending on the environment). A lot of us would not want to be categorized as the b**ch in spaces, so we hold back opinions and feelings to seem more "normal." We place ourselves in cages so that we won't be pushed further away.

We just want to be accepted.

But do we want to be accepted, really? Is it worth it? To deny who we are to fit into a mold. Nah, I don't think that's how life is supposed to be. We aren't made to be the same, how would change come if someone isn't willing to be different?

How could change come if someone isn't willing to be different?

It is really hard to unlearn code-switching, especially when we're so used to wearing masks to shield certain parts of ourselves from others (Queue: Secrets by Israel and Adrienne Houghton). So, I say and do things that I would naturally do around people I am comfortable with. I dress differently than everyone in the office. I wear bold colors, different hairstyles, different jewelry. And I do this for myself. I do this to keep a piece of my authentic self around me 24/7. I don't look for "ooh's and ah's" (although they can't seem to stop commenting on my many wardrobe changes and hairstyles). I do it because this is who I am.

I'm loud, I'm boisterous, I'm a smart-ass. I get my crap done. I am loving, encouraging, and hopeful. I'm a God-fearing woman that doesn't take any crap from ANYONE. All of this and more encompasses so many of us, but we suppress it and code-switch.

I say, NO MORE.

Throw the switch in the trash and take off your masks. It's time to dance like we're the people at the end of The Wiz, and sing to "A Brand New Day" while unzipping the suit we cocooned ourselves in to be accepted.

Code-switching is real, and I'm tired of BIPOC being the only ones that talk about it.



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