The Adjustment Negro
As we roam this earth, interacting with this beautiful mosaic that we call The Human Race, we are constantly in search of true comfort. When you’re comfortable, you’re contented, safe and free of vexation. Just look at the proportion of notable historical events can be attributed to our desire for comfort.
We find comfort in wealth, food, music, shelter, and most importantly, in the company of others. If you happen to be around people of your own race, gender, age or economic status all of the time, you’re probably more comfortable in life than the person experiencing the minority perspective. That comfort influences behavior, and that’s all this code-switching has been about.
I’ve made references to code-switching in the workplace in previous posts (understatement), but I started noticing a change in my behavioral adjustments recently. Last week, everyone in the office received an invite to meet our firm’s VP, Mr. J. Thomas. He was visiting from Chicago and he had an announcement about some new training program. But the most important fact regarding his visit, was the fact that our VP is Black. I mean, this dude did it. He’s what I’m aspiring to be (kind of), so I was definitely going to the event. As I saved the invite to my Outlook calendar, one of my older, white coworkers tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Are you going to the see Mr. Thomas?”. I turned around, slapped my fist against my palm, and said,
“You already know. We in there Barbara”
“Wonderful. See you there”, she replied as she walked off to go peel some boiled eggs (the smell ruins my mornings). I turned back to my desk and suddenly realized that my code-switch had turned off. When had this happened? When had I suddenly become cool with telling Barbara “We in there”?. Then I remembered that ya boy got a raise last month. And along with that raise came a secure spot for me in the research department. Which means my job ain’t going nowhere.
So, without hesisitation or realization, my code-switch had become more of a code-dimmer. Code-switching is about comfort around an outgroup. Stereotypes, stereotype-threat, racism and ignorant behavior exhibited by members of the majority all contribute to the degree to which a given African American feels the need to code-switch. Since I’ve worked at the consulting firm for a year, gotten to know people, and gotten the equivalent of vocational tenure, my comfort level has gone up a bit. So my code-dimmer has been turned down concordantly.
An Outlook reminder popped up on my screen and disconnected me from my introspective moment. Mr. J.Thomas was going to speak in 5 minutes, so I stopped typing up this blog post and went down to the first floor. I entered a crowd of employees as I exited the elevator. Everyone was sitting in a gigantic conference room and Mr. Thomas was standing at a podium front and center. He tapped the microphone and said,
“What’s good! We ready to get it poppin up in here!?”
Not a care in the world with this guy. He was trying to get everyone excited about the new training programs, and he was doing it Black as ever. Of course he wasn’t code-switching. He’s the Vice President of the company, it doesn’t get much more comfortable than that. It was just amusing to watch a whole bunch of white people follow instructions delivered in African American English Vernacular.
Made my damn day. I was so inspired. So much so, that I watched the Jay Leno show to see President Obama get interviewed just to keep the momentum going. I turned on the TV to find Obama recalling his most recent visit to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. He admitted to the ravenous nature that awakens from within when in the presence of fried chicken and how he scarfed the poultry down with hot sauce in the presidential limo on his way to a fundraiser. You don’t get more comfortable than the Commander in Chief.
So yeah, a year into the game and I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable. I just had to adjust. I still code-switch at work (“code-dim” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue), just not as much. I’m more likely to do it during a conference call with execs than in an impromptu meeting with my teammates. No one is comfortable everywhere, and no one should be comfortable everywhere. But we all deserve our fair share of ease.
And I’m gettin mines.