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  • Writer's pictureDr. B

Code Switching: We all do it!

Many of us in marginalized groups engage in the art of code switching.  Though it is not a skill to add to your resume (hmm...debatable), it is one that you may need to acquire and perfect.  A quick Google search will reveal definitions of code switching, which is basically the act of shifting between language and expression.  For me, as a Black woman, it may show up as greeting one coworker with "Hey, girl/boo/queen/sis!!" while smiling at another with a "Good morning, Mr. **insert stereotypical cisgender heterosexual middle class White male name**, how are you today?"

In chats with clients, we have come to the conclusion that code switching seems to be a necessary act of survival.  Oftentimes, individuals in marginalized populations feel the heavy burden of being the representative of their identity.  A Black woman may think that any mistake she makes is a strike against all Black womxn.  A gay man may believe any non-masculine trait is an indicator of the characteristics of all gay men.  A trans person may think any move they make is a reflection on how all trans folx navigate the world. 

This is such an exhausting weight to bear.  I am growing tired just thinking about it.  But, it also seems like one that is necessary.  Our society is rooted in racism, sexism, heteronormative bias, and so much more.  It is inevitable that we feel the need to put on a face in front of those who have historically beaten us down, physically and emotionally.  I can't just be a Black woman in the world; I am EVERY Black woman.  In an attempt to protect myself and my Black sistas, I code switch in hopes of avoiding perpetuating any stereotype that may hold us back.  I put pressure on myself to do things the right way (hellllooo, perfectionism!!!) so that I don't inadvertently make the road harder for my sistas that will follow behind me.  

But, every decision comes with consequence.  It means I may be bursting at the seams as I run to a fellow person of color's (or other person I deem safe) office to sit and revel in using more casual language; where I can use my hands and body in more animated movements as my Black and Caribbean cultures allow. I can leave out the "g" on a word ending in -ing without someone questioning my intellect or vocabulary.

Some of us do this without even noticing.  It has become second nature to flip that invisible switch; we've seen so many before us do it. It is important to find spaces where you can comfortably be yourself, without having to toggle between the different sides of this coin.

I hope you can take comfort in knowing: girl, we all do it.   -Dr. B.

Here is a video that seems to so perfectly highlight the skill: When You Code Switch At Work

Feel free to share your thoughts/experiences below!

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