Code Switching

Vicki Wright Hamilton sitting in chair holding cash smiling

Over the last few months, I have had more conversations regarding code-switching. First, let’s begin by understanding the definition of code-switching. The dictionary defines it as the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversations. One might ask what is the problem? The problem or concern is that one perceives that they must code-switch to be accepted in certain environments.

In the black community, there is a language spoken from time to time. As black people, we often communicate with one another in a more relaxed tone and diction. I am not talking ebonics here, I am talking about being relaxed and confident to speak openly without judgment. While knowing that you are being understood even if the words and meanings aren’t entirely precise. We don’t use that language or tone when we go into work, specifically, professional environments as we don’t want to appear as if we are uneducated or unprofessional to management or our colleagues.

We often code-switch to survive. We use the language that is “acceptable” to the environment that we are in, so we can have the opportunities that we desire. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. There is another challenge within our own community that when we speak well; we are perceived as “acting white”. As you can imagine, no one wants to feel like a sell-out, or feel ostracized from their community, so we adapt.

After all of these experiences, one begins to ask “can I be authentic and code-switch?” Yes, you can. Code-switching is a way of addressing your audience. We do not speak to our children the same way we do colleagues at work. You do not say or speak the same way to your elders as you do your friends. We must not look at code-switching as being completely negative unless you are not being true to yourself.

We have to get to a place where we are comfortable in our own skin and learn to be authentic in our own presence. You do not have to apologize or be ashamed of your upbringing, background, or experiences. Everyone is a product of those things. We all have our own story and journey. Simply, just be yourself!

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