The Code Switch

So as we all know, it's Black History Month! As this month of celebration and acknowledgment comes to an end, I've started to think about all of the ways the public decided to show appreciation to Black people this year. From Target's display of black brands, the countless "culturally relevant" TV commercials, to the newsletters highlighting "awesome black team members" at our companies.

That last one got me thinking a bit.

I went into work earlier today and saw the FIRST newsletter highlighting a Black team member that was higher up within our company and my first thought was "Why so late in the month" but also "Why aren't we highlighted all of the time?"

As individuals, Black people are often told how much space we're allowed to take up, especially within our workplaces. We've seen the dress codes forbidding certain hairstyles that just so happen to show up upon many members of the black community. We've been groomed by older generations on what kind of blackness is deemed professional... no vibrant, colorful hair, be careful with the length of your braids, you're gonna have to cut those locs if they offer you the job, make sure you speak professionally all of the time, no slip ups.... We're constantly double checking ourselves at the door.

Recently my coworker (white) bought me a gift from a Black History Month collection; a notebook listing various affirmations: innovative, resilient, influential, unapologetic. It was the sweetest gesture from anyone I've worked with and the only time anyone outside of my race has acknowledged my black personhood as more than just hair and skin tone at work. I realized at that moment that she believed "Work Angelique" was me being unapologetically black.

The me that brushes off the "wow you change your hair so much, black people are so lucky" comments, the me that changes the way I speak so I don't mistakenly slip in some AAVE because that dialect is considered a sign of ignorance to others, the me that seldom wheres my hair naturally while I'm working so I don't have to hear about how that one black cousin you have has hair like mine for my entire shift.

She believed that my code switching was authentic and it made me wonder why I do it?

Why do I, as someone that is beyond proud of being black, suppress my blackness within my place of work? And yes I know the way we style our hair and AAVE are not what defines us as people, but truthfully I've never been comfortable being myself around white people within the work place. I've learned to put up a front not only based on training from my elders but conditioning from the world. I smile a little wider, beef up my vocabulary, pull out my sweetheart card just to build the impression that "she's a good one"...a good black, to make my moves within the world a bit smoother. That pained me to type but its the reality for myself and so many others.

Taking up space and holding on to that space as a Black person is E X H A U S T I N G, especially when you know and understand that the space you're taking up wasn't always there and took a while to create.

Within the professional realm, so many of us try to move under the radar that is white supremacy. Being that it is rooted in every aspect of everything, Blacks and even other minorities code switch to fit into the white idea of professionalism. Dressing in the nicest of clothing to prove we can do that well, speaking with a sharp tongue to prove our intellect, disassociating ourselves from things that are cultural so we're not seen as too political (because culture and politics are the same thing right?)

Some do it for the sake of creating more spaces for those like them, some do it to advance themselves... I could never fault them for that.

My personal fight comes into play when I think about how different we are as a people. No one black person is just like the other. Just like how we are born in various complexions, we are born with various personalities and we should be creating spaces for all of us not the kind that white America believed they could tolerate.

We can't create spaces for all of us by dulling ourselves down, suppressing our accents, following societal norms. We create these spaces by excelling as ourselves. Our code switching proves nothing except the fact that we are the most innovative, resilient, influential group of people to ever exist. We've been working on the unapologetic part within the public, but breaking those barriers within the workplace needs to be the next big step. I don't know about you all but I can't continue to let my personhood be colonized.


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