Let's Talk about Code Switching.

May 4, 2018

In a recent conversation with Dr. Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan, we talked about race, racism, and fitting in. He remembered a moment (it's a pretty big--and funny moment) from when he was four where, looking back, he recognizes he was too young to understand code switching.

 

It made me want to know: How, when, and why do YOU code switch?

 

What's code switching, you ask?

Whether you're Black, LGBTQ, an immigrant from another country who has a different accent or speaks a different language, or when you're at work and talking to a colleague in one way and then you answer your office phone and it's your mother--many of us act or speak or behave differently when we're with or talking to specific groups of people: we code-switch.

 

We subtly and either consciously or unconsciously change the way we express ourselves. As NPR's Gene Demby, who is part of the team that produces the podcast Code Switch, says, "We're hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction."

 

The definition of code switching is the practice of shifting the languages you use or the way you express yourself in your conversations.

 

Here's Gilo's story.  I'd love to hear yours.

 

"I was four years old, we were in Washington, DC, and my father was graduating from the FBI national academy. And at the graduation, we walk in and we go to meet J. Edgar Hoover who was the director of the FBI, and I went to go shake his hand.

 

I went to give him like the black soul handshake, and he fumbled the handshake, and it was a funny moment, and I can only imagine it was a tense moment for my father, for my parents. But it was a little bit hilarious.

 

But just that notion that even at four years old that was just normal to me, to give that kind of handshake. I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was just, that’s how you shake hands, that’s what I knew.

                       Gilo and his family with J. Edgar Hoover (Gilo is standing in front of Hoover). 

 

And I remember thereafter being shown, ‘No no, this is how you shake hands in this setting, this is how you shake hands in that setting.’

 

So in terms of code switching, I’m four years old being taught how to code switch through shaking hands with J. Edgar Hoover.

 

We have a photo with him, and he’s standing behind me with his hands on my shoulders. And I think about that and I think about all he was responsible for and yeah, that’s a whole other story."

 

 

 

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