5 things you need to know about code switching

Code Switching : The modifying of ones behavior or appearance, etc to adapt to sociocultural norms.

There’s been a lot of conversation regarding this topic lately. I’ve seen several really funny videos depicting pretty much what it’s like to be a person of color in today’s society while interacting in different social groups. I recently commented on one of these videos sharing a recent experience at work. The response I received was way larger than I could have imagined so I decided to write a post about it.

Code Switching does not mean letting everything slide.

There is a huge difference between toning down your use of colloquiums and becoming an entirely different person.  You want to remember to stay true to yourself and your values. In the work place especially, we can become so used to wearing our office persona we sometimes let things slide that we normally wouldn’t. I sometimes have to talk to customers on the phone at my job, and let’s be real… I have no idea who my work voice belongs to but it’s no me. I surprise myself sometimes when I speak at work, the person on that phone sounds like she came from a loving two parent house hold, lives in a good neighborhood, and has a near perfect credit score. I let her take over me because deep down I know the customers will respond better to someone who sounds… well white. Now I know that’s not right but it’s just what it is, even if it’s not intentional people equate a white voice with professionalism. You may be asking yourself what a white voice is, and before you take it there, I am not a person who thinks that using proper English is for white people only. I am not talking about the words you say, but the way you say them.

So, there you are, at work living your best Caucasian life, and personal conversations start to stir up. In my experience the work place is the number one location where people try you and because you’ve put on your work persona people will try to push your limits knowing that you are trying to maintain your cool in a way you typically wouldn’t outside of the office. It is super important that you remember to remain professional, however don’t let things slide that seem offensive or make you feel uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with a well thought out, corporate clap back when warranted, which could range anywhere from starting an email with my favorite opening “Per my last email” all the way to and HR report. Professional does not mean putting up with blatant disrespect, it means handling it way that does not involve you looking their home address up in the company directory and “waiting for them at the door”. Be sure to speak up when you do not agree with things. It’s okay to have your own opinions, as long as you voice them graciously.

Its ok to code switch within your different friendships.

I am a brutally honest person, mainly because it feels good to me. I get anxious when I can’t say how I truly feel. It will keep me up a night if I feel like I should have told someone something but missed the opportunity to do so. Honesty can be a great quality in choosing friends, however you may want to consider your level of honesty when talking with different people. My best friend and I are brutally honest with each other, if someone would over hear one of our conversations, they might think we hate each other, because it’s one big roast session. The insults and obscenities in one of our conversations might seriously offend one of my other friends. Some people also take criticism as an attack. You need to identify these people and soften your approach. Not everyone has tough skin and if you’re not careful you can damage a meaningful relationship.

In romantic relationships the code switch is a necessity. You may be superwoman in all aspects of your life, but it’s okay to be vulnerable and loving with your significant other. Taking your walls down for the right one will not only give you a great sense of relief, it will also let them know that you trust them and that you feel safe when around them. A lot of men want to feel needed. Being a little easier going with bae is ok, just don’t let them walk all over you (another post for another day)

This also applies to family relationships. The way I speak with my Nigerian family is sometimes completely different from the way that I speak with my African American family, and that’s fine.  If you speak more than one language you may switch throughout the day.

If you’re going to do it, be smooth.

In other words, don’t be fake. I hate when people start to take on the accent of the people they’re talking to. This is not code switching. I’m not sure what it is but it makes me uncomfortable. Code switching is something you do effortlessly and not necessarily on purpose, It just comes naturally. If you’re forcing it you’re becoming a social chameleon, not code switching and that’s a problem.

There are times where the real you will show no matter what.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a comment I left on a video about code switching that had a lot of feedback. It was about a situation where my code switch was unplugged. I had a long stressful week at work and I also had some personal things going on adding to the stress. It may or may not have been shark week and I had, had enough. I chatted with a customer (argued) for about an hour, and for some reason chat gets me extremely hype. At that point my office voice had left for the day, and she wasn’t coming back. Kind of like the hulk in the last Thor. A few coworkers made comments about my tone of voice and the way that I was speaking to them saying that I sounded harsh. the funny this was, this was my normal speaking voice. After the 3rd person said something there was no coming back, and I had to tell them “this is my real voice, I put on a front for yall, Sh**!” And that was that, they knew the truth. Of course, the next day I showed back up with my office voice on deck, but the point is sometimes you just can’t help it.

Be mindful that you are not the only one who does this.

Just as you can go from writing in complete sentences at work to replacing all of your C’s with B’s when talking to your friends, so can everyone else. You never know who you’re really dealing with, or what version of them you’re getting.


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