Perspectives

Code-Switching is a Form of Systemic Racism Against Blacks


Posted on:

< < Back to

Code-switching is the ability of a person to switch between languages or dialects to meet communication needs. It also is the alteration of clothes, hairstyles and music from one environment to another to be accepted.

Code-switching is something that white culture demands of blacks. In short, to be acceptable and not “other”, the white establishment demands that African Americans shed some of their racial being to navigate a white world.

Inclusion means becoming like whites in speech and mannerism. Many whites see a person’s blackness in looks and culture to be alien and “less than.”

Therefore, African Americans are faced with code switching daily. What is an acceptable way of speaking, looking or acting among their family members and friends may not be acceptable to a predominant white culture or the “professional world” that still judges people by white criteria.

“It is difficult situation. Black people are not allowed to be black people in white spaces without adapting to white ways of speaking, dressing and acting,” says Patrice Willoughby, Managing Director and Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the Signal Group, a Washington D.C. firm that offers counselling in strategic communication, public affairs, and government relations.

Willoughby joins Judge Gayle Williams Byers of the S. Euclid Municipal Court on this week’s Spectrum Podcast to discuss the racism associated with code switching. She was the former Chief of Staff for the late House member Stephanie Tubbs Jones and the former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Judge Gayle Williams Byers is the first black female judge of her trial court in Northeastern Ohio.

Both say that younger blacks are less accepting of code-switching and are demanding to be included in society “as they are.” Many people assert that the only way to have “diversity” is to have people be themselves and not try to react to other’s norms.

Code switching also puts extra stress on blacks to be able to adapt equally to both white culture and their black heritage. That stress can lead to health issues and emotional problems.