Where To Start When Understanding Code Switching

The lesson we all need on racial inequity at work.

While Code Switching can be considered a way to “fit in”, it shouldn’t be at the cost of being unauthentic and untrue to oneself. To help us understand the concept better and to probe deeper into how harmful it can be, is Psychotherapist Marci Gray.

What is Code-Switching?

Code-Switching is the way a racialized person changes their appearance, behaviour, speech and mannerism to match what they feel is “proper” and “acceptable” self-expression by mainstream society. While lots of communities might resonate with this, often black Canadians may end up Code Switching more than often.

What Are Examples of How Code-Switching Takes Place?

Code-switching can take place through behaviour attire, culture, and language.

Behaviour: Code-switching is often used to counteract negative stereotypes of Black people being incompetent. So, people will Code switch to appear competent, smart and to be valued by your employer or mainstream society.

Attire: Black people will code-switch in order to fit in and assimilate to the dominant culture because if you are “too ethnic”, studies show that you are less likely to get ahead.  For example, the African head wrap is still not considered acceptable attire in the mainstream workplace. It is not considered professional attire and it should be treated like the turban or hijab as it has a lot of cultural significance.

Another example is having women’s black hair appear straight and not natural, kinky or in an afro.

Culture & Language: Dominant culture dictates what is considered appropriate and you don’t want to appear too loud or too angry or “too Black” “too ghetto.”  For example, there is pressure to sound, and it looks a certain way. And there is pressure to “speak proper English” and not to have an accent or use your Caribbean dialect in professional settings, for example.

Why is Code-Switching Detrimental to the Black Community?

While code-switching is seen as crucial for professional advancement it can take a psychological toll on a person. It’s exhausting to constantly have to turn on this behaviour to suit the dominant culture; it does not allow Black people to show up as their authentic self for fear of lack of acceptance, demotion, or just not being promoted.

Code-switching is not working to advance Blacks in the workplace. Blacks are still less likely to have gratifying jobs and they are not getting promotions at the same rate as their white counterparts and so, it kind of boils down to Racism. 97% of Black workers do not want to return to the workplace and would rather stay remote. They don’t have to code-switch as much with their cameras off can also avoid microaggressions.

Is there a Solution to Code Switching?

  1. Realize that our judgements of what is acceptable come from a Eurocentric perspective.  It reflects unconscious biases, and it also reinforces racism and stereotypical views of Black people. So, we have to begin to challenge this in our workplaces by revisiting our dress code policies and allowing cultural attire to be acceptable within professional standards in the workplace. Begin to implement cultural equity.
  2. Allow your employees to show up as their whole selves without judgement by making your workplaces truly inclusive. We all have equity, diversity, and inclusion policies, let’s take a look at how we are actualizing them.
  3. Let’s not be judgemental of our racialized co-workers. Let them be themselves.
  4. Make workspaces truly multicultural so that all people feel comfortable in the space. Recognize differences in people and celebrate diversity.

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