The Social Experiment

I’m going to start this off by telling you guys that I have mad-scientist tendencies.  That being said, let’s get started.


I do research consulting and have a degree in psychology, so I love watching how people think and behave. Therefore, I decided to conduct my own little social experiment to observe the impact of in-group code-switching. That is to say, how code-switching when only Black people are around effects you and your fellow employees.  The subjects were my co-workers, the methodology was a blind, within-group, controlled experiment (controlled because most of the environmental factors in the office are variables that I want to effect the subjects).


I recently realized that I had been flipping the code-switch on and off because my building combined two floors and now there’s eight more Black people in the office.  So, I decided to code-switch when I spoke to them for an entire week, and took notes on how they responded.  Don’t get me wrong, I know these people, but once they become part of an experiment …

they become nothing but data! [insert evil laugh].

During that week, I basically code-switched all day, everyday.  It was kind of exhausting.  I’d see one of my Black coworkers walk by, and I’d be like,

“Good Morning”

And he be like,

“What’s Good”

And then he be thinking,

"What the hell was that 'Good Morning' shit?"

When I asked Tisha what she was doing over the weekend, I literally asked her, “What are you doing over the weekend?”  To which she replied, “Not much, just doing stuff with friends.”

When I nodded at people, the nod went downward, unlike The Black Nod.  I used my hands less when I talked.  I hadn’t known the other Black coworkers for long enough for them to know that I was code-switching hard as hell, and I got NO love.  No casual conversations by the water cooler, no random lunch invites, nothing.

"I'm so lonely"

But the next week, everything changed.

The following week, I started flipping  the code-switch on and off, and suddenly everybody was my best friend.  I said “What’s good” instead of “Hello”, I brought up rappers during conversations and used my hands more than a damn ventriloquist; just being my natural, Black-ass self.  That week, I got invited to lunch three times, and new Black coworkers were striking up all kinds of conversation.  When I asked Tisha, “What you gettin’ into this weekend?” she thoroughly detailed her club and movie plans.

"Well, look who decided to come around" "Don't start nigga"

The code-switch elicited a complete 180 in behavior for most of the new Black people.  Black people of varying ages at that.

What’s notable is that the same behavioral responses generally occurred when I code-switched with White people.  At the end of the day, nobody is likely to blaintantly say,

“I don’t quite understand how you communicate and behave. Ergo, I do not fuck with you”

but the subtle little changes in behavior are what you’re probably going to see.

So in conclusion, when it comes to office communication,  the code-switch is one hell of a tool.  It’s up to you how much you want to use it.  We all adjust our behaviors and communication styles depending on the time and place, but the people are what’s most important.

And lunch invites.


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