Can you imagine being required to explain every aspect of your life when no one else does? How content would you be if you had to constantly “tone down” your personality or have your assertiveness misinterpreted?
Typically, I am a vibrant, silly, and kindhearted individual but I feel myself drifting away. As a person of color there is an unwritten rule that we must conform to the ways of life. I was not the smartest or the most popular student, but I understood early on the need to “code switch”.
Normally, code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages but for me it involves alternating personalities while embracing the dominant culture. Simply, acting in a way that allows any group or business to feel comfortable with my presence.
I distinctly remember being in kindergarten reading at a second-grade level. Other educators were amazed and asked how I could be so “smart”. One teacher would send me to the library every time a scout would visit the class. She did it so much that other teachers noticed. I overheard her say, “ I was doing better than the white children.”
This may not seem significant…but it was.
I knew in order to not be banished to the library I would have to be what the teacher wanted. When the teacher was near, I would be excessively quiet and passive during class. When I was away from the teacher, I was vibrant and silly.
My code-switching during class made the teacher feel comfortable but I felt like garbage.
Unfortunately, the need to code-switch is not limited to school or social events for women of color. It is a constant battle that is not limited to personality, hair, or tone of laughter but includes navigating-while-black in the workplace. The mental strain associated with what is “professionally ideal” does not follow the original intention to stifle, rather than support, diversity. The negative effects of ingrained stereotypes of black women also contribute to code switching in the workplace.
We are all striving not to be like the ladies of “Love and Hip Hop” and be labeled aggressive, opinionated or angry. We are passionate, assertive and confident in our abilities and should stand 10 toes on our beliefs. To translate into code switch terms, we strongly believe that black women should be treated as individuals based on their character and not media stereotypes.
I am not pleased at how exhausted I am daily from code-switching. I pretend to be happy and passive when I just want to be great. I should be able to “be myself” without fear of misinterpretation. I am an understanding and empathic person but to constantly tip toe around other people feelings while they send a SWAT team of foolishness to shoot up my mine is unacceptable. Feeling like Loc Dog from Don’t be a menace while drinking your juice in the hood when he said “Do. We. Have. A. Problem?” When I load up this bazooka full of sarcastic puns, I am disrespectful one. Secondly, using the movie quote above would not even be used because some may not understand the reference. They would stare with soulless eyes waiting on me to explain. They will be waiting because I will not explain. Therefore, my personality is put in a box and locked away until after work. I become passive, excessively quiet and do the bare minimum.
Marian Wright Edelman said:
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
We strive to be entrepreneurs, CEOs, or more opportunities in general. I will be the change for the future by reducing the need to code switch, promote diversity in the workplace and encourage black women to NEVER DIM YOUR LIGHT! I am no longer Interested fitting in but to be recognized as a human being.
I am a woman.
I am black.
I am a Discoid Lupus survivor.
A highly educated woman who knows her worth. Be afraid… be very afraid. Insert Jason Voorhees whispers and music.