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There's a bunch of video trailers for a new movie that came out this year that focuses on an African-American who works at a call center. Many people hang up on him when he talks normally, which then prompts his coworker to give him the advice to talk like a white person. He does and starts to get more responses than he did normally. There is a term for what he does, it is called code-switching. Code-switching is when we change up the way we speak in order to get a better outcome than what would happen if we did not. Code-switching usually involves changing one's language based of ethnicity or culture. This is not to be confused with pragmatics, which is when people speak different in different conversations (for example, you speak to a baby differently than your college professor. Or at least I would hope so).
So why do people use code-switching? Well, for the man in the video, he does it so that he can talk to more people without them hanging up on him. Code-switching is probably something that we all do at some point. For most people who are white, code-switching is used to try and fit in. They figure if they throw in some slang or say a word a certain way then they might be able to be seen as cool by people who are not white. However, for minority races, code-switching has become a very important survival tip to bypass centuries of prejudice engrained into the American society.
Research has been done where different people called to inquire about an apartment. The person on the other line was then exposed to various accents and their reactions were recorded by the researchers. On a whole, people who were white, or disguised themselves to sound white were more likely to be received warmly and taken as a seriously inquirer towards the apartment. Did the landlord consider themselves to be biased? Probably not.
What does this research mean in a bigger context? Basically it shows that we think we know more about a person based on their voices than we actually do. We can judge someone based off of some words stated over a telephone and try to make a guess about their socio-economic status or cultural background. However, we clearly have a capacity to be wrong, especially when someone employs the use of code-switching. Sure, some people may look at that and come to the conclusion that there are a lot of liars in the world and we should not trust people. But, really, we should be looking at ourselves and try to work past our own biases to the point where people will not need to work harder to sound like something they are not in order to get our attention.
Now you might be asking yourself, well how do I get past my biases if I do not even know what they are? Well, there are tests online that you can take to see what your implicit biases are. Once you know what those are, you can start to try and teach yourself to associate good things with every type of person, so that you start to see the people you had a bias against in a less negative light. I am not saying that you should Clockwork Orange yourself, but you can definitely learn to pick out little bits and pieces of people that are good so that you can associate that person with not being negative. Will it be easy? No, but we owe it to our fellow men to try and work through our issues so that they can have a better life and just be themselves.