When the Tables Turned
Most people alter their behavior and vernacular according to the environment they’re in. Black people code-switch, or alter their behavior, to better communicate with the majority. Turning on the code-switch keeps Becky from being distracted by how you talk, and keeps her focused what you actually have to say.
Even though I see and interact with other Black people in the office, I had no idea how much they actually code-switched. At least until we went to training at an outside facility.
My job sent all of the newer (and younger) employees to a day-long programming training. The younger employees are comprised of a lot less White people, so when I walked in the training room, we had suddenly become the majority.
Nothing out of the ordinary occured during the training. Everyone took their notes and did their work. But then lunchtime came…
Most of the coworkers met up in the training lounge after we got our food from the mall. There were seven Black people ( Milton and The Other Black Guy included) and two White people, Bob and Katherine. The lunch conversation started out normally. Katherine started talking about how her and her husband went camping last weekend. As Bob chipped in with his own camping stories, I mentioned that I had recently went camping in the woods of South Carolina. To which Tiffany responded,
“You went camping in the woods of South Carolina? I couldn’t do that. I ain’t tryin’ to get lynched”
Code-switch OFF. I have known Tiffany for 6 months, and I’ve never heard her make a joke like that before. We all laughed, well, Bob just looked like this
You ain’t in Kansas anymore Bob. It’s about to go down.
Once Tiffany turned the code-switch off, everybody stopped giving a fuck. Monica, who I KNEW had a little hood in her, started talking about her hood-ass family. She went on about the number of times her dad had pulled a gun out in public. This was the first lunch break conversation where rap was mentioned. I even noticed changes in my own behavior. Suddenly, I was clapping on every syllable I wanted to emphasize. I started replacing my “no”s with “naw”s (e.g. “Naw son”). And all the while, Katherine and Bob were just trying to keep up.
I observed the conversation like a social experiment, and as these behavioral anomalies continued to occur, I realized that the “norm” had been temporarily switched. So I wondered, “How far could this go?”
That’s how far.
One of the coworkers had an upcoming wedding, so the topic of wedding receptions came up, then wedding reception dances. Which brought us to the stanky leg, which brought three of us to actually performing the dance in the training room. It reminded me of when I worked in an all Black office. I’m not saying that every Black business has people dancing in it at some point, but there were a few freestyle sessions at my old job (some stepping happened too).
It must be that level of comfort that White people feel all of the time. Except this lunch break of course. We were all peers and we couldn’t care less about the all of the possible ways Katherine and Bob could misunderstand our behavior. I had no idea how much all the other Black people at my job were code switching until then. Most hilarious lunch ever.
After we finished, Katherine asked me,
“How come when I hang out with them we always talk about the most…interesting things?”
I have no idea what you’re talking about.