By Tosha Woodard, Minding My Bs and Qs
Recently, I came across a bit of well-intended insight, a call for inclusivity and a genuine appeal to a white majority to consider the plight of so-called persons of color. I’m adlibbing a bit but the gist of it was this:People of color say they are expected to act more white than whites but knowing how to do this in white-run classrooms and other public places is as much essential as it is unfair. My take:Unfair, yes. But essential?
Code-switching, as it’s called, is the practice of changing what is very customary behavior for purposes of security, acceptance, relatability, and/or advancement when interacting with other groups. And minoritized groups—driven by what are considered societal norms—have been compelled to make all sorts of alterations, from relaxed hair and changed names to adjusted vernacular in order to be better understood or more culturally compatible with a majority. And sometimes these moments are life or death, so the gravity of code-switching cannot be understated. But there’s an awful consequence of code-switching: presumptions persist, progress stalls, distrust thrives, and we have but one-side of the same story. And frankly, I’m over it.
Consider this statistic: Four years before blacks and white could legally marry in the United States, 80 percent of white Americans said they felt racial minorities were treated equally in their communities. Thank goodness for the other 20 percent. And as it is, inclusivity thirsts for these voices, those experience—that authenticity—while code-switching only exacerbates self-doubt and hides the most honest pieces of phenomenal individuals. It’s mind-boggling that through another’s devaluation and misunderstanding that one’s most natural attributes become bargained-for—exchanges when no negotiations are warranted. Or that by omission, negative presumptions go from 0 to 100—real quick. Take for instance a parent organization with low parent involvement from groups of color. The assumption becomes the absence is due to long work hours or lack of interest when feedback from minoritized groups suggests the biggest culprit is feeling shut out by those already on the inside due to their significant and already established bonds.
The goal here is not to persuade the haters. The goal is to build understanding and to draw out the confidence from those who know code-switching all too well—to make a more culturally-competent society for everyone here. Whatever your woes, we all have them. Being you and lending your voice even when feeling shut out opens up a world of unrepentant options that require only your approval—the difference in being an offensive versus defensive player and knowing that belonging is your birthright. People of color should no longer question if our natural is good enough: Is it okay for our girls—sweet and vulnerable—to sport their natural textures? How will my braids be perceived at work? Will my given name cause my resume to be overlooked? Now is the time to conscientiously put these questions to bed. The answer is this: When we leave parts of ourselves behind, we have fewer tools to draw from and the excellence of who we are remains misunderstood. If we’re not to speak on our behalf, then who? And, though your curiosity is understandable and a discussion is welcomed, please don’t assume you can touch her afro puffs without express permission.
[Tosha Woodard is the director of Loudoun Diversity, mom to five square pegs in round holes, educator’s wife, law grad, courageous conversationalist and impassioned advocate in pursuit of social justice and the next challenge—of purpose. You can follow Minding My Bs&Qs on Facebook and Twitter @BsandQs.]