Code-switching has entangled far too many leaders in the very tongues of those who oppress them, and it must stop if we are ever to be free of the many ways in which we harm each other through our words and basic needs and desires to communicate effectively with one another.
We all know what code-switching is. It has been deemed a necessary evil of communicating as an oppressed minority within a dominant culture in the name of ‘trying to fit in’ to survive. Most leaders tend to look at code-switching through their own cultural experience, and that is fine (e.g., people of one ethnic identity tend to see code-switching through a racial lens). However, it is also time to understand that if you are doing it, then so are a lot of other people doing it too.
It is not just a tool to navigate a racialized world. It is also a tool to navigate a gendered world. We know this not just because of the code-switching among heterosexuals (e.g., the many conversations that women only have around other women because they can’t have them around men) but also the inherent constraints placed upon LGBTQIA++ culture in a heterosexually-normalized world.
The continuance of dominant cultures, be it by race, ethnicity, skin color, gender, LGBTQIA++ identity, ability level, class, etc. to hold to intellectual standards, and the linguistic standards that follow, entrap us all in a dance without any soul. Code-switching is brain energy. It requires that those in a position of power remain the subject of the conversation instead of any particular topic to be discussed. For example, if a leader wants to talk about a challenge at work with their boss, they have to take the time to put it into the language of the boss because the boss’s understanding is held as the primary metric of success and therefore of action. Some will read this and say, “well, yeah! If I am the boss and the people who work for me are trying to help me to understand a problem, then they need to find a way to let me know. ” However, that takes energy and time for any leader to authentically tap into how they say something, convert it, and then customize it for how other peoples’ need to hear it. And, it must be stated, if the leader identifies as having English as a second language then this could even be re-wounding and traumatizing for ALL of the ways in which they have been diminished on the journey to safely integrating into a culture that does not speak the same language of their home country. Further, why must the onus reside with the individual trying to illuminate an issue unto which they have already been harmed? Why is it so unfathomable that the responsibility lies with the listener rather than the speaker?
We do not have to code-switch if we simply give people space to communicate things most authentically from their hearts. Doing so removes the performance of needing to say something perfectly for someone else to hear. Not only is the goal of being heard perfectly an unworthy one when the more clear and evident opportunity is to be fully understood, but it is just not necessary in the first place. Every person has been in a situation where they understood something, not because it was perfectly well stated, but because it was effectively well communicated.
When leaders communicate authentically they can transcend the fact that they may be speaking two different languages. Think of how we communicate with our bodies through gestures, posturing, etc. This is why we can feel what dancers are saying to us when we watch a performance. Consider how people communicate their feelings through a painting. What is happening when we pick up on the energy of the painting and feel inspired into a conversation about the topic that we feel compelled to discuss? Be aware of the wisdom that comes from American Sign Language and how an entire community of leaders all over the world are able to so brilliantly communicate with their hands. With these considerations, perhaps there is space to let go of the perfect way to say this or that. It is in that space where someone can find the freedom to authentically say what they need to say from their heart without code-switching through their brain so that “their boss understands them” and/or in a way that reinforces the corporate mindset’s thinking that diversity is a burden.
So, this is an invitation to stop code-switching. Stop requiring those around you to code-switch by simply choosing to be you, all of you. When you communicate with others, know that coming from a place of heart-driven authenticity is enough. Just breathe, trust the wisdom of your own heart, and let your voice carry your truth forward. You were not born to spend so much time code-switching, not for the comfort of those who oppressed your voice, not for your boss, not for one gender or another, and so on. You are designed to speak from your heart. Do so, such that you most and best authentically express the wisdom inside of you at all times and in all spaces.