Code-switching is a double-edged sword: it can be oppressive or work in your favor


Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.

Code-switching can be beneficial in the workplace but oftentimes reduces opportunities for self-expression.

Tania Ortiz, Opinion Editor

Growing up as a first generation Mexican American, I would constantly be reminded that I needed to speak English properly, especially in an academic setting with teachers and peers. The need to fit in was always in the back of my mind, but little did I know that I was being taught how to code-switch. 

Code-switching was initially defined as how people who spoke a language other than English seamlessly switched between the two languages. Now, code-switching has taken a new meaning. Its new definition refers to any member of a marginalized group or identity adapting to a dominant environment within any context.

There are several reasons as to why one code-switches in their daily lives. One of the main reasons is wanting to fit in a dominant environment; this may be a conscious or subconscious desire. 

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, “Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to say they at least sometimes feel the need to change the way they express themselves when they are around people with different racial backgrounds.”

Code-switching is similar to being bilingual. Someone who code-switches can be fluent in “proper” English and also in the dialect we speak when with friends or family. For BIPOC who speak a language other than English, the struggle is to transition from each dialect effortlessly.

Most BIPOC are already well-versed in code-switching by the time they get to college. Unfortunately, the ability to code-switch is a survival tool, and it does not limit itself to just the way we speak.

Code-switching also includes having to adjust how one dresses to fit the environment one surrounds themselves in. In a workplace setting, this comes down to what is deemed “professional.” Most times, what looks professional is based only on the dominant group.

To many, code-switching can be considered to be oppressive to BIPOC because it serves as a stressor. Additionally, adjusting to settings continuously can be seen as trying too hard. According to an article published by Myles Durkee, Latinx and Black college students can even be accused of “acting white” by those in their cultural group.  

As I’ve mentioned, code-switching is seen as a survival tool to fit into society for many BIPOC. Many opt to code-switch because they want to avoid being stereotyped by adjusting their style of dress and their dialect. Concealing and adjusting part of one’s identity to fit in is not healthy and can reduce self-expression opportunities.

While it can be oppressive, code-switching is a double-edged sword and can work in favor of many. Knowing when to adjust to the environment in a workplace setting is important and even sounding like you are professional allows people to take you seriously.

In my own experiences, code-switching has worked in allowing me to adjust to any setting I find myself in. Most times, when I code-switch, it’s done subconsciously. But there are other instances when I do it because I need to fit in or prove that I am professional enough to “have a seat at the table.”

Code-switching will always be around and it’s a double-edged sword that we can’t always avoid. For some, it may be beneficial, but it’s also important that we understand that it can be a form of survival for others.

Tania Ortiz is the Opinion Editor for The Cougar Chronicle. She is a senior at CSUSM as a communication major. Tania plans to pursue a job in the media industry after graduation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, going on runs and spending time with friends.