Code Switching: Part II: What is it?

Code Switching:  Part II:  What is it?
(Click here for Code Switching, Part I:
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Often times the conversation about code switching focuses on how racial minorities respond to white culture; however, there is something else taking place that is note-worthy.  Isn’t everybody code-switching?  And to that, I ask, “why”?  Who defined appropriate behavior, and how do we all know, perhaps, subconsciously, what it is?

First, let’s ask ourselves, “what is class?”  In oversimplified terms, its education and money.  In fuller terms, class is meant to describe how obtaining an education and money affects an individual’s behavior.  For example, people often say that having a broad vocabulary should lead to less profanity because an educated person has more words to express herself.  These other words are deemed less offensive because they represent a progression from actions taken and words spoken primarily for utilitarian purposes to the achieving the same purposes in a more ornamental manner.   In order to focus on the ornamental nature of a thing, you must have confidence that the outcome of the utilitarian purpose of the thing is certain.  Essentially, in order for a person to be concerned with how something appears or sounds, they must be past the point of immediate need.  For example, if you desperately need shoes, your primary concern is to protect your feet and not the style of the shoe; therefore, it doesn’t matter whether the shoe is a sneaker, a mule, or green.  However, once your real need for shoes has been met, you may be more concerned with whether your next shoe is a sneaker, mule, or green. Therefore, moving up in class means to intentionally pay attention to things that are ornamental:  as your financial resources improve, the more your perspective is eclipsed by what you want instead of focusing on what you need.

Once your survival needs are met, you are able to fully consider various goals and activities to enrich your life.  This is where education meets money and where both impact behavior (where you live, where you shop, the friends you choose, the types of food you eat, etc). Essentially, education lets you exercise options that you probably don’t have when your needs are always front and center.

Hence, behavior is a display of class because there are some options that people who have limited income and education cannot exercise while there are other choices that upper class people will not exercise.

Now, back to the original questions: Isn’t everybody code-switching?  And to that, I ask, “why”?  Who defined appropriate behavior, and how do we all know, perhaps, subconsciously, what it is?  Most people code switch because they want to distance themselves from what it means to be less educated and poor what it means to be, what it means to be different from the group in power.  Distancing oneself from behaviors that resonate with poor people is preferable because ours is a society that believes poverty is a choice.  Further, appropriate behavior is defined by the middle class because our society enjoys the ornamental aspects of life and believes that everybody has the ability to join the middle class, whether by birth or by personal work ethic; therefore, the focus of the lower class need not be the focus of everyday life because people who are in that group are only in that group temporarily or because they choose to be.  Moreover, isn’t there more to life than just basic needs, than simply choosing “shoes”?  At the heart of the matter is the question, “why would you behave in a way that either suggests or makes it clear that you have limited education, income and power?”

Stay tuned for Code Switching, Part III

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