“Wassup dog”, or “Lemme ask you something real quick.” are some of the things I would normally say to my friends or family members. But, the second someone of a higher class or professional field approaches me, that language would automatically switch. Without even thinking about it, that “wassup dog” would turn into “how are you doing today?” Code- switching is the practice of alternating between two different languages, usually to fit in more with a specific environment.
Fifth grade was the year I first encountered and discovered code-switching. Because I was raised in the suburbs around white people of high class, whom are considered the dominant members of society because of their social status and wealth, I had become accustomed to speaking Standard English as a dominant language. In today’s society, those of the high class are viewed as superior, educated, and powerful. When I first moved to an urban Philadelphia area, there were words and slang terms being used that I never knew could exist.
“Why you talking like that?”
“You talk like a white girl?”
“Stop talking like that, be yourself.”
Before even asking for my name, these were just some of the things that people said to me on my first day of attending a Philadelphia Public School. Someone had told me to be myself, yet that’s what I had been doing all along. I didn’t know how to talk any other way than standard English, so I did the only thing that I thought and knew would ensure my survival in Philly. Learn. I learned how to speak slang, what words to use and not to use. Most importantly, I learned when to use this on my own. Speaking slang around those in the higher class could cause judgement, leading to stereotypes against those who aren’t privileged. In order to not be judged and stereotyped, I learned how to code- switch in order to be able to survive not only in Philly, but the real world, which isn’t made for everyone especially not myself. The United States of America was claimed and created by white men and for white men, no one else. Yet, as one, the majority of American people have grown to be diverse and integrated. Although this is great, it doesn’t take away from the values of those in power. The only way I could succeed in a world that wasn’t made for me to succeed was to cope with and somehow learn the ways of those who America was created for.
I can not remember exactly how many times my people (black people) have told me I “talk like a white girl”. This just shows the psychological mindset of blacks in America. Speaking properly is considered “speaking white.” Yet, the most successful people, not always white, know how to speak fluently and professionally. Being able to do so can take one further in life than them not being able to or doing so, and this is because of the cultural capital of those who are superior in America. The reason many people associate speaking “black” with speaking “ghetto” or improper is because that is how blacks are viewed as a whole, regardless if they can speak properly or not.
I remember watching and observing a video project relating to code- switching and there were numerous perspectives involved. There were blacks, whites, hispanics, and those of the lower, middle and higher class. The video composed of numerous questions being asked based on code- switching, who is superior in society, and who is inferior in society. One interviewee who was a black male of the lower class said "I don't see my cultural capital to certain institutions as valuable as a white person's cultural capital". Being black in America, I can relate to what was being said. Because blacks are viewed as inferior to whites, this inferiority can discriminate against the views of those who are inferior. The effects of this discrimination are a group of people, whose ideas and opinions are swept under the rug and viewed as abnormal to those who are superior in society (typically the high class). Which brings back the point that anything outside of society’s norms leads to stereotypes and judgements, as Black English is viewed. My language does not define who I am, rather it defines who I’m around and which way I am perceived to act.