Code Switching/Talking “White”
By Sade Hale
I still remember the first time it happened. The first time I was accused. The first time in my life I felt like I had to explain myself to someone. To explain myself to someone just because of the way I spoke. I was accused of “talking white.” The accuser insisted that I stop “sounding white and start sounding like a black girl.”
This is not just an issue that I faced personally, but it is an issue encountered in the African American community. Many African Americans are accused of “sounding/talking white.” Although I’m not exactly sure what “sounding white” really is, the people who claim that some blacks “sound white” are not really sure what it is either. Some people associate “talking white” with speaking proper English, correct grammar, and not using slang. This assumption that black people shouldn’t speak proper English, shouldn’t use correct grammar, and should not rid their speech of slang is discouraging.
In 2010, Senate majority leader Harry Reid made a statement about President Barack Obama’s speaking patterns. Reid stated that Obama spoke with “no negro dialect.” After receiving pressure from many Americans, Reid apologized for his statements. However, the concept of an African American dialect has been around for years.
Several doctors and professors dispute whether an African American dialect truly exists or is it just code switching. The formal term for the concept of talking and sounding a certain way is code switching. According to Heather Coffey a PhD in culture, curriculum, and change at UNC-Chapel Hill, “code switching is the practice of moving between variations of languages in different contexts.” In my opinion, code switching is not just a black thing, but a human thing. People who are bilingual code switch depending on who they are talking to. Many of us code switch from time to time. We may speak a certain way with friends, but our diction may change when having a conversation with our parents, professors, or employers. How many of us use slang and broken sentences when during a job interview?