¨ Who is it?¨
¨Ummm, someone named Charles.¨
¨Oh, that’s my client from work. Here, pass me my phone.¨
I grab her purse and blindly forage for her phone.
¨C’mon hurry up!¨
¨Wait a minute...almost got it¨
I quickly hand her the device and watch as she answers the man on the other side of the line.
¨Hello? Charles? Why yes, this is Amy Silveri from Quality Progressions…. Pardon? Yes, I will be visiting your house for a brief meeting regarding the placement of your child...¨
This is a daily routine that I see everyday with the interaction I have with my mom. Now anyone who’s grown up in a black household knows that they’re parents always change the way they talk depending on who they’re talking too and depending on that person’s race. For years I’ve heard my mom’s voice change from her work environment to her social environment. And it wasn’t until recently where I’ve noticed that I do this as well.
There are three types of Jaiye’s.
The white Jaiye.
The black Jaiye.
And the regular Jaiye.
The white Jaiye can be described as the voice I use when I talk to everyday white people. White people I see at school, who I see at supermarkets, who I see walking down the street. My voice suddenly becomes higher and softer and my vocabulary immediately advances. I speak more slowly and my facial expression changes. I make sure to smile and to always appear happy, as if everything is going great. And as I’m doing this, I think to myself, ¨ I hope they don’t think I’m ghetto.¨ and all the other negative stereotypes attributed with blacks. As soon as a white person speaks to me my brain instantaneously reminds myself to ¨Change your voice!¨, and in doing this I automatically become a new person, a new identity, an alternate self. It all becomes a facade.
The black Jaiye is alternately, the voice I use with my blacks peers. It’s the voice where I’m most comfortable with. It allows me to express my individuality better and I feel more accepted with the fact that I’m black. I feel more connected with my roots and the life that we as blacks live. My words become a constant blur; I talk faster, louder and I use slang. ¨Hi¨ or ¨hello¨, becomes ¨Yo¨ or ¨wassup¨. ¨Isn’t¨ becomes ¨ain’t¨. I use words like ¨jawn¨ and ¨drawlin’¨, words that are indigenous to Philly and that I hear everyday . My native tongue.
And the regular Jaiye is a combination of the two. My language neither leans towards the white dialect or the black dialect. My tongue isn’t biased. I find myself using this the most throughout my everyday life. It has the perfect amount of respect and proper mannerism yet it still holds onto my personality and characteristics that derived from me being African American. The slang and the style is still there yet there’s a proper sophistication in the way that I enunciate the words as they leave my mouth. In doing so, I’m not judged for being too black or too white; too ¨ghetto¨”or too ¨snobby¨.
Throughout my entire life I’ve always had these different personas and evidently, the reasons why I code switch is because of the influence that language and dialect has on today’s society and the way we are viewed as people, especially for a young African American woman in America.
James Baldwin, a well known African American writer who tackled the topics of race and oppression as well as the topic of African Americans in the white man’s society, wrote an essay on the influence of language on blacks in America and how it has influenced the way we live today. He explained that the way we speak, impacts the social recognition of African Americans, as well as other people of color, stating that, ¨It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.¨ Our language, dialect and accent gives us power in this world. As black Americans, it is prime that we remind ourselves to code switch, in a society where the mass majority does not see us as intelligent or deemed fit enough into today’s society and a primary reason for this is because of the way we speak. Brought over to this country as slaves, English was never our original language nor was our dialects natural to English. We all developed various accents that people would describe as ¨ghetto¨ and for that, the world views us as ignorant belligerent fools who deserve no chances in life. In doing so, we retain back all power lost and all of the stereotypes pin-pointed towards us are then withdrawn.
As for most blacks, code switching isn't something that we want to do. It’s something that we’re forced to do to reject oppression. People tend to judge us off of our tongue and because of that, we do not get the same opportunities as others. Because of this, the vast majority of blacks live in a life reflected upon poverty, imprisonment, drugs and negativity. But who are we to change who we are to fit the social norm? It is not our fault that we speak like this. We were forced to, and in the end, we've adapted the various dialects and accents that travel across this country. Code-switching is appropriate when needed, but don’t change the way you speak entirely. Language mirrors identity.