All families should consider talking about the hardships that Black people and people of color often face socially, in schools and in the workplace. This includes feeling obligated to “code switch,” which is a conscious decision to change your appearance to match what is typically (and problematically) considered “standard,” because it may help you fit in and be accepted. This can include adjusting clothing, hair styles, makeup, jewelry, the language you use and your tone. According to Harvard Business Review, many Black employees in particular consider code switching crucial for success and advancement, and it often comes at great psychological cost.
Black families and families of color
Teaching and talking about code switching is incredibly difficult and can spark feelings of anger and frustration. Many parents feel it’s necessary to help their child learn why word choice and tone are important in certain situations, and that how they talk at home with family and friends may not always be welcomed in public, at school or at work.
How you choose to talk about code switching with your teen can depend on many factors including where you live and your family’s values. It may be helpful to discuss what’s currently being done to help mitigate some parts of code switching. This includes The Crown Act, which is now law in Colorado. It prohibits race-based hair discrimination, meaning no one can deny you employment and educational opportunities because of your hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.
As you talk with your teen, it may help to ask them questions like:
- Do you code switch? If so, how does it make you feel?
- Outside of whether you feel it’s right or wrong, do you think there are benefits to code switching? What are they?
- If you choose not to code switch, what do you think some of the consequences would be?
- Are there safe ways for you to speak out or push back on code switching?
White families should openly talk about the harmful impacts that code switching has on Black people and people of color. Read articles about code switching with your teen, and help them connect that this is why it’s important for them to have a diverse social circle and regularly interact with people of all races and backgrounds. Here are a few ways you and your teen can start:
- Reflect. You likely have biases about what is considered standard or appropriate. Acknowledging this is important.
- Discuss. Ask your teen, “Do you think any of your friends or family members have to code switch? How do you think that makes them feel? What are some of the ways we can center and amplify the voices of Black people and people of color to help bring about change?”
- Do the work. Expand your social circle and become comfortable with speech and styles that are different from your own. For example, find an organization in your community that serves people of color. Donate money and volunteer your time.
- Ask and listen. More and more people of color are speaking out against discriminatory social norms and would be happy to talk with you. It’s OK to ask, but make sure you’ve also done some reading and research on your own first. Be upfront about why you’re asking and make it clear that you want to help.
- Speak up. When you see someone being discriminated against or you notice a practice in your workplace that is discriminatory, say something and be an advocate for change.