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Language Judgments as microaggressions describes code switching

Amanda Hitchcock

Three speakers, one moderator, and over one hundred listeners tuned into the Language Judgments as (Micro)aggressions SEAT at The Table event on Monday — covering the problems microaggressions cause in society.

As people were filtering in the Zoom call, Rebecca Lartigue sent out a link to a zoom poll for the viewers pertaining to knowledge, if any, about Black english. At the end of the meeting, Lartigue went over the answers which showed most of the participants knew little to nothing about the subject coming in, and she hoped to increase their knowledge at the end. 

“It is not an impediment, it is just a different sound system, grammar and vocabulary that African Americans use some of the time,” Lartigue, a English professor at Springfield College explained how speech therapists do not define Black english as a disability. 

Code switching is nothing new, and it doesn’t only apply to Black english. The practice of code switching is alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. This means while white children at home are just speaking “mainstream” English, others have been taught Black english. 

The first speaker, Springfield College student Ja’Naya Ashley, showed a clip of children playing a game in class turning their “home language” into “mainstream American english.” They already know Black english, and are being taught mainstream American english to master the language of school in its oral and written form.

Angelica Core, a Springfield College alumna, is the only person of color in her office. She explained how mindful she has to be of her speech when communicating to her coworkers.

“Because I am the only person of color I do have to be mindful of the way I talk. Just in case they don’t know how to take it, if they get uncomfortable or think I am being ratchet,” she said.  

Core went on to talk about being singled out in a work Zoom by a white woman telling her that a show they had been watching had a lynching scene in it which might be traumatizing for her. 

“I was shocked she felt the need to warn me,” she said, as she stared at the camera in shock. 

 That encounter is one of many examples of microaggressions in the workplace. 

“When it comes to work I don’t want them to assume that I am uneducated,” Core explained.

Another Springfield College student, George Kelly, spoke about his experiences on both ends of the spectrum. “Oh you sound white” or “when you talk like that I don’t know what you are saying.”  

Kelly explained things people assume about him. In some settings people try to compliment him about the way he is speaking, which is another form of microaggression. People assume he is not as articulate as they are or do not have higher expectations for him.

This behavior of stereotyping African Americans and assuming they will speak a certain way is a microaggression that has been woven into our culture.

Participants who attended this SEAT event are now coming away with a new understanding of Black english and ways not to discriminate against children or even adults who code switch in their daily lives.

Photo: Office of Multicultural Affairs

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