Back in late June 2013, three members of Culture on the Edge had a conversation on Facebook about the category “code switching” (nicely exemplified in the above Key & Peele skit, featuring Luther, President Obama’s “anger translator” [watch it below]), a conversation that later led to two blog posts on our site, referencing this conversation (here and here) and, ultimately, to Monica Miller conceiving of a workshop at Lehigh University, funded by a Collaborative Research Grant from its The Humanities Center — an opportunity that will involve Lehigh faculty members, James Peterson, Associate Professor of English and Director of Africana Studies, Jackie Krasas, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology and Director of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, along with three of her Edge colleagues: Merinda Simmons, Leslie Dorrough Smith, and Vaia Touna — all of whom work on identity and language, but in very different domains and historical periods.
We hope that the following conversation — spruced up a bit for public consumption — helps to set the stage for some of the early thinking that may be in the background of the workshop, which takes place in April 2014 (more news on that coming soon).
Ok, I have a query: it strikes me that, despite how many use it, “code switching” is a profoundly imperial category, one that perpetuates certain notions of race (when it is applied to studying some instances of African American English), while seemingly only describing them, yet no one realizes it.
What do you think? Continue reading “Behind the Scenes: A Conversation on “Code Switching””
“Race” is such a problematic, complex term, no? We use it as if it refers to some stable thing (like when we complete a government form) but as soon as we look at its use more closely we realize it is a vague designation for a variety that spans a limitless continuum with no clear internal boundaries. “Race” — as in “What race are you?” — is thus our way of creating the impression of managing what may in fact be unbridled human difference, as if it has nicely defined internal compartments.
Case in point: the fellow above — Alex Sugiura — was featured in a story recently (and another a little before that), on the increasingly mixed race nature of American culture. He’s from Brooklyn but, of course, that’s not where he’s really from, right? Continue reading ““No, Really, Where Are You From?””
A while back a couple Edge posts appeared on the topic of “code switching” (Merinda’s post is here and Monica’s is here). Listening to NPR this morning I heard a story on the NSA’s use of codewords for its various clandestine projects — how it follows longstanding conventions in writing them as one word and in all caps, like SHARKFINN, KEYSTONE, or DISHFIRE — and that made me think again on the topic of code switching. Continue reading ““They’ve Given You a Number and Taken Away Your Name””
Code switching is often used to reference the actions (usually linguistic variations) of a particular person/group that is assumed to break from their own “natural” practices to perform codes “not their own” for the purposes of fitting in, acquiring capital, and accessing spaces thought to perceive the “native” practices of the switcher as illegitimate or illegible. This switching, or shifting as some call it, is often painted with a stroke of fluidity and described to take know-how, precision, performance and rehearsal. While the durability or recapitulations of code switching may come to be seen as natural over time, where it’s no longer recognized or described as a switch, it’s often thought to be something that is and can be [consciously] turned off and on like a light switch by the social actor. Continue reading “Whose Switch is a Switch?”