I think about code-switching a lot.
What started as a phrase to describe how a person alternates between two or more languages in a single conversation has been adopted as a term that represents how minorities change their body language, vernacular, existence…when switching from less formal to more formal settings.
Enter Corporate America.
The constant shifting of one’s personality for acceptance is generally exhausting to those of us who try their hardest to live life authentically. Consider all the times you’ve changed the tone and pitch of your voice on a phone interview or forced your ‘fro into a bun hoping for fewer stares and no questions. I guarantee you that often times you’ve done these things unknowingly. It almost feels like second nature to you.
Corporate America was not created as a space for black people to be comfortable.
I know you would think that for as long as we’ve been infiltrating these spaces, that they would begin to adjust, accommodate, and accept us but that’s just not the case. ‘Blackness’ precedes us all and Papa Pope said it best: “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” The odds are not in our favor – even less as a black woman.
In society, women are treated with less respect, considered to be less intelligent, more emotional and overall not as good as men. Now, paint this woman the shade of brown sugar and watch the descriptions swing to ‘loud,’ ‘ghetto,’ and ultimately, undeserving. It’s a double-edged sword and if you even think of swinging first, you’re the antagonist.
I’m sure if we all came together in a room and gave accounts of the times we experienced micro-aggression’s, subtle jarring comments or blatant racism in the workplace, we would be floored by the realization that most times, code-switching doesn’t make a bit of a difference.
Due to this understanding on our part and the great Auntie Maxine Waters leading the way, we’ve begun reclaiming our time. Our space. Our purpose in Corporate America. There is an ongoing silencing and under-representation of women and people of color everywhere. Despite us being the saviors, the fixers, the defenders of almost everything, whether we stand in the forefront or are the Hidden Figures, society continues to waste not only our time but also our voices and know-how.
But when things go wrong, someone somewhere is calling out: “Where’s the black lady?!”
Rather than continuing on the same path of bending a knee to a non-representative system that disrespects, fails to protect and persists on neglecting black women and their contributions to social movements, pop culture memes, and big brands, take back code-switching.
Change your stature, be loud, make your hair bigger and taller, and etch out a true space in Corporate America.