The older I got, the more I wanted to just be ME! And by "me," I mean, ME me, and not the "me," who had to conform to what society said I should be. Being a Black person in predominantly white settings can cause a survival technique that is exhausting. This technique will leave you mentally and emotionally drained and will have you resenting the people who deemed it necessary to use the technique in the first place. This technique, is known as code-switching.
What Is Code-Switching?
The Professional Code-Switcher
After 10 and a half years in urban schools, I moved to a suburban school, in an upper middle class neighborhood. The percentage of Black students was 8% and the staff percentage was even less. I was the first Black administrator at the school. Talk about pressure! I remember thinking, "Don't screw this up, Twana! If you mess around and go off on one of these folks, they'll never give this position to another Black person for a long time." That is SO much weight for us to have to bear on our shoulders; to be good enough, and conformed enough, for them to consider hiring other Black people after us. I know y'all know that feeling all too well, though.
I had a plan for how I would slowly roll out my natural hair styles, going from a bun when I first started, to a puff, then twistouts, then a coily fro. I carefully transitioned to each style, paying close attention to the reactions of those around me, looking for signs of disapproval. When upset teachers or parents contacted me, I chose my words and my tone VERY carefully. I got so good at professionally tearing folks apart via email, they had no idea I was calling them all kinds of b**** and h*** in my head.
I developed a very good relationship with a lot of our Black students. They needed my presence just as much as I needed theirs. My conversations with them (and several of our Hispanic students) were MUCH different from my conversations with most white students.
Example: Student in my office for cussing out a teacher
Me to a white student: "You cussed out your teacher? That is unacceptable. I'm going to have to suspend you from school."
Me to a Black student: "Boy/Girl, GET IN HERE! Have you LOST YO MIND?! Now you know DARN WELL you can't be acting like this up in these folks school! Are you crazy?! Whatcho momma gon say when I call her and tell her you're suspended?"
My tone in the latter conversation, FOR SURE, would've gotten me a phone call to my principal, to complain I was being rude to their child. 🙄 But with the Black and hispanic students, I legit talked to, and treated, them like they were my own.
I was lucky enough to have an administrative team I didn't have to do as much code-switching around. Although, I did accidentally send them a text that included the N word, that was meant for my friend. 🤦🏾♀️ 😩 😂 I remember one of my co-workers (who's now a good friend) telling me that I wear my Blackness, which means, she saw the Blackity Black side of me. She heard my complaints about racial injustices and disparities. I was able to be a proud Black woman, who is passionate about HBCUs, getting more Black staff, and getting more Black students in advanced classes. They saw, and accepted, the Blackity Black Twana. But, when those conference room doors opened, and our admin team meeting ended, I had to pull Blackity Black Twana back in.
Five years of walking on eggshells, trying not to be seen as angry or aggressive. Five years of holding back my Black pride due to fear of others interpreting it as white hate. Five years of wanting to cuss out the parents who questioned the harshness of their white child's discipline for calling a Black student the N word. I know five years may not seem like a lot, but those five years were emotionally exhausting.
I'm Done Code-Switching
The older I got, the more annoyed I got with code-switching. I got tired of the extra role I had to play. I didn't want to get into character anymore. I just wanted to be me, with my dramatic, sassy, lover of all things Black, self!
So, in 2020, when I decided to leave education, and become a full-time entrepreneur, I decided to leave code-switching, too. I was DONE with that sh*t! I was done toning down my Blackness, and my passion for Black issues, to prevent white people from feeling uncomfortable. I decided their comfort is no longer my responsibility!
Now, I ain't gon act like I'm completely cured from the code-switching bug. It is so ingrained in me, at this point, that I end up doing it before I know it. I still catch myself pausing before putting on a Blackity Black t-shirt or hoodie, carefully considering where I'm going, and how white folks who read my shirt might feel. Sometimes I make myself push passed those feelings, and I put the shirt on anyway. Sometimes, I choose a different shirt.
Nowadays, since I work from home now, I find myself just avoiding predominately white social settings all together, because I know that I will subconsciously start code-switching. And dammit, I said I'm done with that!
While, I may not be completely code-switch free just, yet, I'm on my way.
I got the ideas for these code-switching shirts when I decided to transition from code-switching to not. I knew that this journey is one that, we, as Black women, share. And no matter where you are in your journey, I wanted you to have a shirt that represents you.
For those of you who still have to code-switch to survive, hang in there, sis! I know you're a professional at it, but I know you're also tired! For those of you fortunate enough to be able to say, "I'm not code-switching," shout out to you, sis! Go live your best Blackity Black life!
In Blackness ✊🏾,