I think code switching is a remarkable thing in our society. As Key and Peele showed, it can be quite funny when you see such an exaggerated version. Another example that this brought to mind was a part of a Tom Segura (a comedian) show. He’s talking about a Steven Seagal reality TV show where he’s supposedly a police officer, and in the course of describing the show, he mentions how Seagal panders hopelessly to every ethnicity he comes across. For example, white people get, “Hi, how are you?” while black people get something like, “Hey, what’s up brotha?” and anyone of Asian descent gets a bow.
The point of describing this is to illustrate one of my initial reactions to the idea of code switching. Steven Seagal does it to the point that it becomes offensive, and people on the street can clearly tell that he’s not being genuine. Code switching must be discreet, or you could end up in a very awkward situation. It’s ok to talk to teachers differently than friends. It’s even ok to talk to different friends differently. Personally, I’ll admit that in high school, (I’m trying to be a little more true to myself in college) I code switched all the time. I would change how I acted depending on who I was with, because I had a lot of friends that were in different circles who I got along with, but the different circles didn’t really mix. But it gets dangerous quickly, especially if you bring race into play, as Steven Seagal did.
Going back to Tom Segura’s show, he also describes to the audience how the people that Steven Seagal greets based only on their appearance get offended. As we all know, not every Asian person wants to be bowed to in public as a standard greeting. That’s just making an assumption about their culture based on their appearance, which, again, could be pretty offensive.
If we accept everything I’ve just argued, the problem with code switching now is that you have to actually know someone before you can speak in their code. So how do you approach them before you know what their code is? I think the answer is that you just don’t code switch. Be true to yourself. After all, if you make a friend based only on speaking code, are they really your friend? I would argue no. They aren’t your friend, and you aren’t their friend until both of you speak openly as yourselves. If both people open up and don’t try to anticipate what the other person is like, that’s when real connection can happen. If you speak as yourself, not someone you think that this other person will like, and you don’t become friends right away, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. That’s not to say you can’t be decent to this other person, but pretending to be someone else around them won’t provide the connection that you would get from being around someone who likes you for who you are.
Am I saying that code switching has no place in society? No. There are times and places where code switching is and invaluable tool. What I am saying is that it’s important not to lose yourself in all the different codes you might end up speaking in.