I want to address something that gives me a sense of discomfort, or maybe it’s better described as a feeling of self-doubt. It’s not something out of my control or something people do to me — well, not directly anyway. I’m talking about code-switching.
I guarantee that everyone has done some degree of code-switching whether they’ve realized it or not. It’s a common act of social psychology that allows us to adapt to new environments and try to fit in. I’ve had some people call me fake for it, but it shouldn’t be frowned upon.
Google defines code-switching as the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. For example, when bilingual individuals switch to their second language to talk to someone new or, in my case, when I switch from formal English to Ebonics after speaking to my non-melanated friends.
Ebonics is somewhat of its own language used by Black Americans. It’s kind of like the Black community’s way of spicing up American English.
It wasn’t until recently that I noticed my code-switching tendencies. One night, I was riding in the car with one of my roommates when a rap song started playing. As I was tapping the display of my phone, the wording of my sentence switched from formal to slang to fit the environment my brain perceived it was in. I notice this also happens when I’m handing out newspapers, and one of my black friends greets me. When I respond, I sound like a completely different person. Weird, right?
It’s important to represent yourself as true to who you are at all times. After all, you shouldn’t be ashamed of who you’ve grown to be in your many years of living. It’s disrespectful to yourself to put on a facade depending on who you’re around. Although I agree with these statements, they don’t necessarily fit my situation.
I’m confident in who I am, and switching the way I talk to people shouldn’t be viewed as switching the portrayal of my personhood.
As mentioned in many of my previous For the Culture pieces, I’m biracial. Naturally, I’ve learned to fit in as much as I've learned that I don’t fit in. It’s a sad merry-go-round of identity crises and bouts of imposter syndrome. Code-switching may have been my way of coping with being “too white” at first, but now I’ve turned it into my own method of creating deeper connections with people.
Yes, it sounds like I have to act more black to fit in or tone back my culture to appeal to white savior complexes, but that’s not the case. The knowledge of my people’s history, what they’ve contributed to society and my appreciation of Black culture keeps me secure enough to stay the same, no matter who I associate with. I’m the same person with the same actions; I just feel more comfortable speaking a certain way around certain people.
In the professional world, code-switching is somewhat of an unspoken requirement. There aren’t many high-level employees who use slang in the workplace. I’m not saying slang is the antithesis of professionalism; I’m saying everybody needs to know when to use it and when not to. That goes for anybody, regardless of skin tone.