life · Our Black History

If it aint white, it aint right. At least that’s what they trying to tell us.

So for one of my courses I did a blog post about code switching.  According to Google Dictionary code switching is the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. I discussed how for me, code switching has always had a deeper definition. Code switching for me means changing the way I speak or act based on the environment that I am in. For example, when I pull into the parking lot at work I turn my music down really low so no one hears me blasting hip hop. Nothing is wrong with hip hop, but when you work at a PWI (predominately white institution), you don’t want to be that “black girl”. When at work or in other environments, I speak differently than the way I speak when I am with my family or friends.  I can remember being younger and my mother constantly telling me that when I was in certain environments, especially those that were filled with “the majority”, I needed to be mindful of the way I acted and spoke.

  “Watch how you act around white people. Sometimes they’ll judge you just because you are Black. They’ll think you’re some ghetto Black girl.” 

I didn’t understand back then why she was saying that. I really don’t even think I understood what she was saying. What I did know was that she was not saying it because she was ashamed of our blackness or thought herself that I was some “ghetto Black girl”.  Now that I am older, I understand what she meant. What she was saying was that the way that I spoke and acted, as a result of my race and culture, could sometimes put me in situations that were not fair to me, even though there was nothing wrong with the way I was acting or speaking. What she was saying was that because of the way our society is programmed, at times I would need to put on a front and “play the game”, if you will, so that I could prove I was just as good as anyone else. She was essentially telling me to code switch.    

We have all seen code switching either in person or in the media. Maybe at times when we didn’t even recognize that is what we were seeing. Like this clip from Key & Peel. Code switching at its finest. It’s funny here, it’s funny when my Black colleagues and I joke about it in the office, it’s funny with friends and family, but as I was thinking about Black History Month and what it means to be a Black woman in this society it also made me sad and frustrated because I started thinking about our young people.

Code switching has value, but why should I even have to do it? Even worse, why do young Black students have to do it?

Yes, code switching has gotten me into, and out of, situations that would have went differently had I been acting or speaking like my normal self. I don’t think I would have the job I have now if I spoke to the people interviewing me the same way I talk around my friends and family. In no way, shape, or form do I  feel as though there is ANYTHING wrong with the way I speak as a Black woman. I am in NO WAY ashamed of being Black.  

However, I am fully aware that because I am a Black woman there are some ignorant, stuck in their ways, judgmental, prejudiced, misinformed individuals that will see the way I act or hear the way I speak and think that I am inferior in some way. Unfortunately, it is no different for the young ones.

Jae Nichelle discusses African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Standard American English (SAE) in one of her blog posts. If you are interested check it out .To sum it up, AAVE is a dialect used by Black people in social settings and SAE is what is taught in school. Often times AAVE is seen as inferior to SAE. In reality, AAVE is not inferior at all and has a very rich history and connection to Black culture, but society has caused many to think that if someone speaks using AAVE they are uneducated or not as intelligent as those that speak SAE.

Our poor Black babies

As I have shared before, I am very passionate about education and equity of opportunity for all students. Cuz BOAH that is not what is happening now. I definitely won’t get into that right now cuz whew chile….but this blog post made me start to think about young Black students in school. Often times, their culture is to be left at the door and is not seen as valuable. I have read countless articles that talk about language in schools and how other dialects like AAVE are essentially a joke. If students don’t fit into the “norm” of the classroom (which is really designed for white, middle-class, male students), they are seen as inferior. Basically in the classroom, if it aint white, it aint right.

Now let me say I know Black students aren’t the only ones that are battling this in the classroom. For example, emergent bilinguals are also facing these challenges as well. But right now, I’m talking about us. Do I think Black students should know standard English? Absolutely. It is critical. But if that is the case we also need to teach them about our racist society that is not made for them and how even though standard English isn’t even spoken like that in our society (when you think about it, who really talks in standard English all the time) , they still have to code switch to survive and thrive. AND they should know that just because that is the case, they are not inferior in any capacity. They are still smart, kind, beautiful babies of God that can do ANYTHING.

Until next time.

2 thoughts on “If it aint white, it aint right. At least that’s what they trying to tell us.

  1. I really enjoyed this read. If you’re black in America and you want to survive you have to master the art of code switching. My mom told me similar things when I was growing up and thank God I listened even tho I really didn’t understand it at first. Thanks for sharing this


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