Advance Essay #2: Code-Switching by Jason Greene

While I was writing this essay, one thing I tried to do was tell to my mom’s personal story and my personal story with code-switching in a way that engaged the reader and could allow them to relate.  We all code-switch at one point or another.  It is just if we notice when it happens or not.  There is not just one part of this essay that I can say I am the most proud of.  I am proud of all of the essay.  As I continue to grow as a writer one thing I plan on working on is my storytelling skills.  

The year was 1973.  My mother was born in a small town in Ethiopia. Because my grandmother was not able to provide for my mother and uncle, she decided to give my mother up for adoption.  She knew that if she kept her that she would end up dying of malnutrition.  She lived in the hospital for the rest of the years and the nurses took care of her.  Then two missionaries from the United States heard about her though one of the nurses and fell in love at first sight.  The next year my mom was heading to the other side of the country with a whole another family.  Because of this she learned two languages.  Slang or “black” language she would use with friends and “white” language or talking proper.  The transition from one way of talking to another is code-switching. Growing up she would get teased by her black friends at school for talking “white”.  Her friends would say things like “Sara you talk so white.” or “Why are you talking like that?”  She felt different. She once told me that, she felt like she was between two very different worlds. I also had to go through the same thing.  When I talked to my family that was white I talked a certain way.  More proper.  When I am with my friends I talk another way.

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in both Philadelphia and the suburbs my mother still had to deal with the side affects of racism and the civil rights movement.  When she lived in the suburbs, white families would ask why that white family had a black child.  When her family lived in the city, black families would ask why that white family had a black child.  Since she grew up in a white household she adopted parts of the white culture including the language.  When she was at a school and social events with black people, the transition from one language to another was difficult.  The kids would make fun for the way she talked.  It wasn’t her fault because of the environment she was in on a daily basis.

Growing up I didn’t see that side of my family as white.  I honestly did not see color.  I knew my mom was adopted but I just saw them as family.  They were people who loved me and people who I loved back.  It wasn’t until a couple years ago I noticed that they didn’t look like me.  I remember the moment when I realized this.  We were in church and the pastor said “If you can please stand up for our final prayer.” As we stood up I noticed that my sister, mom and I were not just the only black people in our row but the only black people in the audience.  All I saw was white faces.  None of them looked like me, but it wasn’t until two years ago I realized that I spoke differently when around them.  I was going to visit my aunt and her family in Arizona.  I was going to a baseball camp at ASU.  It was my first time going to see them by myself.  When my uncle and cousin picked me up from the airport I noticed that I would talk differently.  When I first noticed it I hated it.  I was allowing my environment to choose how I talked.  I realized that the reason I was doing this to make up for the fact I wasn’t like them.  I didn’t look like them and I thought that the way we spoke our common language could make up for that.

Today our society in this country is divided in many different ways.  Gender, race, sexual orientation are just one of the many ways people group themselves.  Language is also one of the ways we group ourselves. Gene Demby of NPR said “When you're attuned to the phenomenon of code-switching, you start to see it everywhere, and you begin to see the way race, ethnicity and culture plays out all over the place.” We tend to stay with people who speak the same language as us.  We can overcome these divisions though.  We have to learn to accept that people are different.  I am not just talking about language but all aspects of someone’s life.  When we can accept people for who they are and not for what they aren’t we will see society come together.

Sometimes we as humans allow ourselves to get caught up into trying to fit in.  My mother and I experienced this first hand.  With her it was trying to fit into people to looked like her and with me it was trying to fit in with my family that had a lighter skin tone than me.  Matt Thompson, writer for NPR wrote a piece on called Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch. He said “Very often, people code-switch — both consciously and unconsciously — to act or talk more like those around them. While this can be effective, it can also be perilous…” I agree with this.  In some situations it is a necessary and useful skill.  In others it is not.  We should not allow pressure from society and our environment dictate how we speak.  If we allow this, we change who we are and who we will become.


Demby, Gene. "How Code-Switching Explains The World." NPR. NPR, 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. <>.

Thompson, Matt. "Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch." NPR. NPR, 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <>.