The Land of No Code-Switch
The racial composition of my office is pretty diverse. This means that everyone employs some behavioral adjustments to better communicate with one another and exhibit some cultural sensitivity. Of course people slip up, which is why I’ve posted so much on this blog. It’s always interesting to witness people in specific demographics change their behavior when they are surrounded by a homogeneous ingroup, whether a meeting ends up with mostly Black people in attendance or the baby boomers are chatting at the water cooler. The only group that simply does not switch up behavior is old Black women. They call everyone “honey-child” and so on.
In racially homogeneous work environments, everyone just acts like themselves all of the time. The only switching that occurs is due to general professionalism. So when some of my research team went on a business trip to one of the blackest test sites in our region, things got rather interesting. Especially because Emily was with us, and she was the only White person.
We were conducting performance evaluations on customer service locations around the South East. This particular site was in a hood-ass area of Georgia. Two Black employees, Emily and I headed out to the site to see how everything was going.
Sidenote: If you ever need to figure out what to play in a rental car full of varying age groups and races, 9 times out of 10, you can just play Michael Jackson. Everybody likes MJ.
We pulled into the parking lot of the customer service center early in the morning. When we entered the building, Emily greeted the first employee with a “Good morning”, to which the employee responded,
“What’s good? Ya’ll from the research team right? Hold up right quick”
Then he went into the back office to inform the manager of our arrival. The manager was a heavy-set, awkward and verbose Black man named Quinton. He showed us around the building and went on and on about everything from the snacks in the vending machine to the colors of sticky notes. We introduced ourselves to the staff, all of whom were Black. And yes, rap thumping in the background.
We were all assigned different employees to observe throughout the day. Emily was assigned to a call monitor named Justin, and Justin is obsessed with rims. I kid you not, the White woman ended up with the Black guy who literally spent half of the day talking about rims. When he wasn’t receiving any calls, he was on Google images, pointing at the screen and saying to Emily,
“See those right there? How they got the chrome wit the black? Throw them joints on the Lex and we good money”
Then Emily would smile and nod with a look of intrigue and confusion. It was hilarious.
I left the building to take my lunch, and by the time I came back, Justin was teaching Emily how to do a pimp walk. I’m dead serious, Justin was talking about how he walks out of the office at the end of the day, and somehow their conversation led them to a full full training session on how to walk like a pimp, lean and all. Several other employees were standing around, chanting Emily on as her movements resembled that of an extra on the set of the Walking Dead. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, laughing, dapping each other up and getting work done without a code switch in sight.
It reminded me of the first job I had after I graduated from college. We’d turn up the bass of the speakers in our racially homogenous office every time the boss walked out. We talked openly about racial issues, we talked shit, we ordered fried chicken on a weekly basis and we ate it to our hearts’ content, and we freestyled.
Good times. But I think I might enjoy the diverse workplace more. I enjoy being able to interact with people of different creeds and cultures, and I love the fact that I make a small and positive impact on the perception that other races have on Black men. Either way, I’m happy so long as I have other Black people in the office.
The customer service center was approaching closing hours, and the research team and I started reviewing our data. On measures of efficiency and performance consistency, the Blackest branch was performing the best out of all of the sampled sites. Needless to say, I pleased. Code-switching is employed in particular environments to improve communication and understanding among diverse company. It relieves stress and combats the adverse affects of stereotype-threat. Code-switching does not entail a relinquishment of one’s racial identity, nor does it suggest that “Black” is unprofessional. The customer service center in hood-ass Georgia is a testament to that fact, and we Black people can clearly perform in environments of any racial composition. All of you are reading this post in environments of varying diversity, and we all make adjustments accordingly while trying to perform at our best (I assume).
As we left the building for the day, the customer service staff all shook our hands. As Justin shook Emily’s hand, she told him that she forgot his name. To which he responded, “Clifford Harris” as he smirked in my direction. “Clifford Harris. Got it. We’ll see you next time Mr. Harris!”, Emily replied.
Diversity is hilarious.