For linguists, code-switching describes the simple act of switching between two languages in a conversation. But in today’s increasingly multicultural, multiethnic society, the term’s deeper meaning involves shifting between different cultures as you move through life’s conversations — choosing your communication style based on the people you’re dealing with….As more cultures join America’s melting pot, that’s why code-switching remains so valuable.
It’s a reminder to be fully who you are at all times, while making sure you’re understood well enough to be valued, respected and considered.”
Thanks to @SAGradKelvin for posting this article to twitter. Entitled “Learning How To Code-Switch: Humbling, But Necessary“, the author shares his narrative of learning how to code-switch in order to move between his White school and Black home community. It’s an article I can resonate with and, while we don’t share the same narrative in terms of pretty much anything, I can empathize with his feelings of isolation and confusion.
Here’s a few of my truths when it comes to code-switching:
1.) I do it. I’ve always done it, but I didn’t know I was until graduate school and, specifically, when I started to search for a job.
2.) I have a lot of pain around code-switching. As the author says, he does it to be heard by his audience. Particularly, women get criticized for not saying something “appropriately”, for sounding “too smart” or “too confident”, for not being “polite” and so much more. I’ve heard this all and more, and know my experiences are often echoed by other women and women of color in the field and workforce. The simple act of being heard is more complex than even coming up with what to say. Something to track: how often do people in your office/department invalidate themselves before speaking? Is there a connection between any of their social identities?
3.) I know how to code switch to achieve the ends I need. While many people (though not all, and on different timelines and perspectives) with any sort of subordinated identity are aware of this dynamic- consider this: if you have never heard of code-switching, or don’t know whether anyone around you does it, it may be a function of privilege you carry. People code switch to accommodate others’ level of comfort. What dynamics exist where you are being accommodated?
4.) Having a consciousness of when and how I code switch is simultaneously annoying and empowering. In the ever- continuing search for authenticity, it is refreshing for me to be able to identify moments I must do it in order to be heard at work, at home, out in the world- pretty much everywhere. But it’s also frustrating that I spend so much energy thinking about the way I communicate.
Like the author of the article, I understand why I code switch and why code switching is also frustrating. The process of code switching teaches me some parts of myself while simultaneously losing other parts. I wonder how this impacts my ability to have really authentic relationships with the people around me- thought part of it is being honest, checking how I’ve been socialized in terms of my communication style really does impact who I am able to connect with and in what ways…and ultimately shows up in a lot of different ways. I don’t know if I have anything particularly wise to say at the end of this other than this: it is complicated.
So here are a few questions for you, internets:
- When did you learn about code switching? How does the way you learned about it tie into your other identities?
- Something many offices talk about in student affairs is creating environments where people can present themselves authentically. How are you cultivating this environment when it comes to different communication styles?
- What communication styles do you notice you shut down to? Why do you think that is?
- How do you give feedback on a communication style that respects the complexity and weight that comes with learning how to navigate professional work environments?
Until next time,