Code switching is a learned skill one hones with age and experience as it involves altering speech and body language according to one’s particular audience. Though some frown upon code switching, claiming it dishonest, I believe it is a necessary skill for success in modern society. I find myself code switching all the time. I speak to the kids I babysit differently than to my little brother and sister, to my friends at school differently than to my teachers, and to my employer differently than to my parents. Normally, I have no problem switching back and forth between these different versions of myself, however, things can get complicated when addressing more than one “group” or type of person at a time – the character in the Key and Peele skit, who is speaking to his wife on the phone while simultaneously trying to impress an eavesdropping stranger passing by faces this same struggle.
I grew up in a relatively conservative household. While many of my friends would talk freely with their parents about relationships and parties, these topics were taboo in my home. I reserved these types of conversations for only my close friends, and eventually their parents as I became more comfortable with them. As you could imagine, having my more liberal friends over to my house when my parents were home created some awkward code switching situations for me. My friends were all used to the outspoken and somewhat wild version of me and didn’t understand why I was acting so ‘weird’ around my parents. They were always open with me and with their families, so they saw no issue being just as open with my family as well. They would ask my mother about things she wasn’t supposed to know about like, “Did Emily tell you about what happened to her last night at Nico’s party?” when I had promised my mom that I was going to Hannah’s to study or casually mention that a classmate of ours was on drugs after I had assured my dad that there was no problems with substance abuse at my high school. I found myself in an uncomfortable position, caught between hanging out and having natural conversations with my friends at home and trying to appease and not worry my strict parents. I quickly learned that the codes “obedient daughter” and “fun friend” did not mesh, and while they are both a part of who I am, it’s hard to play both roles at the same time.
For the most part, I try to remain true to my identity regardless of who is around me. Though I may share certain things with my friends that I exclude from conversations with my parents, or use different vocabulary with my siblings than I do with my boyfriend, I’d like to think that my underlying personality is more or less the same no matter the context. Code switching isn’t always easy, and therefore must be done tactfully so as to not get into trouble with multiple and conflicting identities.