The art of code switching (and why it should be an asset)

MGN Online

Recently, there have been several public conversations on the topic of code-switching. This is a term and experience that is not new to African Americans. Since the end of slavery, our existence has consisted of code-switching.

In more modern times, a version of code-switching is the “White voice” we tend to use on the phone or in “professional” settings. It has been so ingrained in many of us as a means of survival that, often times, we are not even aware that we are code-switching.

There is a notion that code-switching is a negative cultural element for Black people. However, we may want to reconsider this notion and see that this may be an asset more than a liability.

For this statement – code-switching as an asset – to be true, there need to be a few things present for it to be effective, such as a healthy level of self-awareness and identity.

If you are not firm in your identity as a Black person in this society, the act of code-switching might cause a significant amount of confusion and possible harm.

When your identity and awareness are not firm, you are often subject to how others want you to be rather than being who you are. One may tend to seek conformity in a group rather than seeking to be an individual as part of the collective. One might find oneself in an endless loop of lies and false values, which in turn can leave an individual empty and lost.

The society we live in is very anti-Black. There is an undercurrent of thought that many elements of Black culture are bad and negative and only a few things about Black culture are worthy of acceptance or promotion. This type of social environment puts Blacks in challenging social dynamics where we attempt to disprove and/or counter social narratives, even when there may not be a need to.

This adjustment to the social dynamics and narratives of Black people is why code-switching occurs. Unfortunately, code-switching has come with a price of compromising one’s self and often leads to what is known as “fake it ‘til you make it.”

However, what if there is a way to utilize code-switching to our advantage, where we do not have to reduce our self-esteem and self-concept to fit within someone else’s paradigm? An individual who has strong self-awareness and Black identity could use code-switching to be more versatile, broaden one’s network and grow personally.

A truth we must accept is that we are in a world that is more connected than ever. Black people in the U.S. have the advantage of becoming some of the most seminal influencers in the world. Black culture has been a bridge to many ethnic groups for hundreds of years, with no evidence of slowing down. We should use this level of influence to begin cultivating the next generations of Black people as global citizens.

By adjusting our current understanding of code-switching and using it as a tool to empower and position ourselves as a group, it could be one piece of the puzzle to moving Black people forward as a collective people.

Whether we view code-switching as a negative element of our Black existence or not, it is important to understand that it has been a part of our survival mechanism as a collective of people. This new focus on code switching should give Black people more cultural versatility, access to multiple networks, and allow for personal growth. At some point, we must stop adjusting to everyone else in the world and make adjustments that work best for us.