Do women actively choose to lessen themselves—become less bold, free, wild and courageous when Code Switching? The answer to this question is way too easy of a Yes, that we beautiful, magical, and unique female creatures have at first reluctantly replied with our actions and over time have become programmed to just self consciously respond in the way of being “less vibrant”, “less sensitive”, “less powerful” in orderto be more digestible. I too, not just as a woman, but a black woman, have experienced this one time too many.
I’ve experienced many moments where I have changed who I was and tried to “reshape” my figure (literally, by working out—trying to make myself look a certain way that was appealing to the world), my mental (by consistently “self-checking” my opinions and feelings for the sake of not causing “chaos” and or discomfort for everyone else but myself), my emotional (by frequently believing the false thinking that what I was asking for and feeling was wrong). I would try to shrink myself to fit into this imaginary box that others believed that I was supposed to be in to align with them rather than me, myself, and my purpose. I would mute myself slowly but surely dim my light lower and lower because of fear of being too vibrant, as a black woman, fear of being “too much”, “too loud”. Although, with age, comes sweet wisdom, growth. Like many other magnetic and exceptional women, everyday I step out more and more of the shell labeled ‘Her Box’ and step into a space labeled, defined, and decorated by me; dancing to the beat of my own song remixed and remastered by me, as much as I like.
"Code-switching is the involvement of adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expressions in ways that willoptimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service and employment opportunities.”
It’s intriguing how I'm not the only young woman who has experienced this. Many age groups have experienced times where they have shrunk and muted themselves. Many generations have taught us just how much society has played a role in shielding women from being women. No one other than a woman has experienced what it’s like to shed their colors based on the visual capabilities of those around her. There has been so much free active muting of our voices that it makes me wonder, do we now subconsciously choose to mute & un-mute to fit the scenery we are in?
As properly defined, code-switching is the involvement of adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expressions in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service and employment opportunities. In black terms, code switching is used to describe how some black women communicate with their "sistas", performing pliable vernacular, depending on the environment she is in. The art of code-switching is empowered by the ability to read the room. As stated in Harvard Business Review, “research suggests that code-switching often occurs in spaces where negative stereotypes of black people run counter to what are considered “appropriate” behaviors and norms for a specific environment.” Many examples of this could be expressed in conversations in the workplace vs. conversations at family functions. For instance, the terminology used can frequently be shown as a huge difference in culture and cultural interactions with one another vs. those of opposite. At a black family function, women may greet one another like “HEYYY GIRLLLL.OKAY I SEE YOU MISS MAMAS.GO AWFF SIS, YOU LOOK GOODTTTT!”. While at or around white culture the greeting of a black woman to a white woman may sound similar to “Hey!! Wow, you look really nice! Keep showing out!”. I’m sure while reading that your mental voice read those two scenarios in two completely different tones, didn’t it? That is indeed a natural reaction. Just the way you read those scenarios in two different tones, read it again, but this time imagine actively living in that scenario and I’m sure you will notice the actual difference in body language as well. For the scenario with a black woman to another black woman, you can picture and feel the vibrant, magical and highly infectious energy that is shared from one sister to another. For the scenario with a black woman and a white woman, you can also feel from the black women’s perspective, the reservation and more “constricted” body language. It can be argued that the change in body language is just based on comfortability, but as a black woman, I can say first hand it has more to do with the level of freedom a black woman has to be authentically her with those who are just like her vs. those who come from a completely different cultural background. Black women code-switch to feel welcomed in unwelcomed, “dominant” spaces.
Code-switching doesn’t stop at how we greet each other, but in work/the quality of our work, education, politics, etc. The Harvard Business Review points out “one, for black people and other racial minorities, downplaying membership in a stigmatized racial group helps increase perceptions of professionalism and the likelihood of being hired. Two, avoiding negative stereotypes associated with black racial identity (i.e. laziness, incompetence) helps Black employees be seen as leaders.” While code-switching may be viewed as a way to be more “suitable” for others, it has it’s negative effects on the giving end. The result of downplaying one’s racial group can generate hostility from “in-group” members, increasing the stereotype of being accused of “acting and or sounding white”.
Code-switching is not a skill all black women have like some universal black power type of quality. “We learn to interact with a spectrum of White social classes, spanning from lower to upper class. Black women know that we are expected to assimilate, hide who we are at our core, without any regard to our ancestral history, ethnicity, income, social capital, or level of education. Sociologist theorist, Patricia Hill Collins, whose focus is Black Feminist Thought, states, “Oppressed peoples may maintain hidden consciousness, and may not reveal their true selves for reasons of selfprotection.” (Collins, 1986).”
While Black women have faced firsthand more often than others what it is like to code-switch on a deeper level, all women have faced the burden of “having” to shrink back from their authentic selves into a generic packaging that “everyone can afford”. Sadly, us women are continuously fighting to be no more than who we are truly in a world that has been built on changing us. We feel the weight of the changes in our relationships, our bodies, our work, our beliefs and feelings. How we do what we do and look as fabulous as we do while doing it is a secret code that only a woman knows how to crack.
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