Code-switching is defined as the alternation of colloquialisms and language in conversation.
“Every black person is bilingual,” Dave Chappelle said. “All of us. We speak street vernacular, and we speak interview.”
Though code-switching was first coined to describe the speech of bilingual people who speak languages like Spanish and Vietnamese, it is being looked at with a broader scope.
We all pay less attention to our grammar when talking to friends and family and attention in more professional settings.
Politicians do it when visiting certain parts of the country, talking more like preachers when they go down south, for instance.
Though code-switching is something done by many people of all different races, for some, it is a method of survival. It is a way of overcoming discrimination. Using your native tongue might make a certain group of people feel uncomfortable or take you less seriously, so we are told to tone down our own culture just to get by.
Most of us are already fluent in this navigation by the time we get to college. Especially in Baton Rouge, where the black community can seem so small. My most day-to-day interactions are with people who don’t look like me: classmates, professors and employers who might not understand or like the way I communicate casually with people who do look like me.
White people use phrases we coined like, “What’s the tea?” and “Bye, Felicia,” but when we use our own terms, it is seen as “ghetto.” If you are going to speak the tongue of our culture, the least you could do is stop discriminating against us when we use it. Where do we draw the line with the necessity of code-switching? Should we have to continuously stifle our identities to fit in?
Chandra D.L. Waring, assistant professor of sociology and race and ethnic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, so that black and biracial Americans wouldn’t need to code-switch if we lived in a post-racial society. She is absolutely right. If white people were as comfortable with minorities as they claimed they are, we wouldn’t have to mask our culture to make them feel more comfortable. Vietnamese people who own nail salons can not even speak their language in peace at their place of business without the fear of customers thinking they are talking about them.
“Code-switching would not be necessary if white privilege hadn’t been embedded in every social institution in American society for centuries” Waring said.
We, as a society, need to be more tolerant of other people, their cultures and their language.
Olivia James is a 19-year-old mass communication freshman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.