Recently, I watched a movie called ” The Hate U Give” projecting the horrific incidents that lead to the” black lives matter” movement. The movie was about a young black girl that lived in the inner city with majority black population. However, she used to attend a white prominent high school, where most students were financially privileged. Her name was Starr which later in the movement will have a significant meaning. This post is not about reviewing the movie but if you need to know, you will be crying throughout the whole movie. This post is rather about what the character, Starr had to produce in order to fit into the two different worlds and that is what we call it “code switching”.
The first time I consciously noticed code switching was when I was working for Wayfair as a customer service representative. I had two good friends throughout the whole company, we immediately got along; we were the only part-timers, finishing up our education, immigrants from an island and people of color. One of my two close friend at Wayfair, was a beautiful, talented, intelligent young woman, who would radiate her positive energy to everyone and everything she did. But as soon as she picked up the phone to talk to a customer she would exaggerate her tone of voice, she wasn’t herself, she had to put on complete facade to appeal to the customer. Right when she would hang up the phone she would continue to be her normal self. I wondered, why did she had to do that? There was nothing wrong with the way she sounded. Actually, at the time, I was really jealous that I couldn’t do the same, turn off my accent whenever I wanted. I remember trying very hard on my accent and even though it sounds like a regular American accent you can still hear some traces of unfamiliarity.
Remember when I said previously that the incident with my friend was the first time I consciously noticed about “code switching”? Little did I know that I was doing the same thing but unconsciously. Although, I’ve always felt an immigrant all my life, even in my own country, I must confess that I’ve been privileged and have not dealt with systematic and stigmatic racial discrimination. Sure I’ve been discriminated against in all the continents I’ve lived in, but it has been nothing but an ignorant person who felt entitled to express their hate towards a group of people. I never felt in danger or attacked even by the racists. However, there was one incident that made things real, that brought things into perspective. I was working in my early years of college at Famous Footwear in Dorchester, I had just converted to Islam when one young mother had approached me in a very aggressive assaulting way. Being very young as I was, I was not able to control my anger and started shouting at this customer who was shouting at me for no apparent reason. She lowered her voice and exclaimed, ” You should be ashamed, you are Muslim, you have be better than that.” That sealed the deal, from that moment on, I knew that I had to put on my best performance because I was always a representation for my faith. I could not let my weakness determine what people would think of Islam. I was given a code to follow willingly or unwillingly.
The movie made me reflect towards code switching or whether or not I still continue to use even in a majority Muslim country like Egypt. The answer is, absolutely yes, I realized that here in Egypt, I cannot act like a normal expat because of many double standards. In my country, Cape Verde, I was also given double standards. Most people have the idea in my country, that Muslim women are weak, oppressed and don’t have freedom to choose what she wants for her life. I remember when I was there, I was constantly trying to change that image within my family. I realize that “code switching” is something that I will have to take with me everywhere I go, it is forever imprinted in me.
I wonder if my friend was aware of what she was doing but something tells me that she had to put her coat on, every single time she leaves her home. I can now imagine the great responsibility that she had to carry every single day. Although “code switching” comes from a negative feeling where one doesn’t really know where to fit in a society. It also has great responsibility and rewards, I know that I would not have this ability to “code switch”, if I had not enter different worlds, cultures, traditions and views in life. Code switching might be a protective mechanism for many people, it also stands for breaking the bridges of stereotypes.
I want to know have you experience code switching before? Do you find it a tiring or a skill that you’ve acquired to cope with society? I really want to know your opinion about this topic, there is still so much more that can be said here in this post.