For Black People, Code Switching  Might Mean Survival

web du bois photo
Graciella Ye’Tsunami
May 14, 2024

Our “white people voice” is also known as “code switching.” When we code switch, we change how we speak and act so that we can fit into an environment that we do not identify with. In the past, the ability to code switch was a matter of life or death for our ancestors.

Enslavers “othered” our ancestors to justify slavery. Our ancestors' African skin and features were used to stereotype them as ugly, lazy, unintelligent, and dangerous. To counter these stereotypes, our ancestors were forced to come up with survival mechanisms, like code switching, so that white people would be less likely to “other” or stereotype them.

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois touched on the painful “double-consciousness” that accompanies code switching. It's a trauma that we have inherited from our ancestors.

When a homie or even a Black co-worker catches us code-switching, we joke about it. Humor numbs the ancestral grief triggered by code switching. But we can’t keep ignoring that grief.

We honor our ancestors by refusing to code switch any time anti-Black institutions, employers, police, or even non-Black community members, signal us to. If being Black, proud, and liberated means we’re seen as dangerous, let’s be the most dangerous people the world’s ever seen.