“Too Tired to Codeswitch”


Photograph courtesy of Moesha Mitchel

On April 5, 2019, during a lecture, Dr. Ford, the vice chancellor of student affairs, was photographed in her sweater which said: “too tired to codeswitch.” After a student posted the image on Twitter, it went viral. It received more than 24.8K likes and as many as 8.4K retweets. Many students began to approach Dr. Ford, with questions and their admiration.

Until recently, Dr. Ford was unaware that she was a viral hit. The Twitter post brought up many questions among the students and the UIS community. Some are unaware of what codeswitching is or the role it plays in our society. So I went back to the source to bring some clarity to the situation.

According to Dr. Ford, codeswitching is the ability “to navigate the environment that you are about to enter into.” She further elaborated by stating that it is the ability to know your audience, their tone, and mannerisms in order to use those qualities to communicate for that time period.

Dr. Ford suggested that codeswitching is similar to traveling to a different country. While there, people have to learn about the customs, language, and ethics of that country in order to communicate and thrive.

Although many might assume that Dr. Ford disapproves the use of codeswitching, she had something different to say about the subject. From her own observations and experiences, codeswitching is very important. She explains that in the first eight seconds of interaction, many people will form conclusions about who you are. Dr. Ford explains that people will “size you up, and they will also decide on your [level of] proper English and grammar, especially for people from underrepresented groups.”

Even though codeswitching plays a crucial role in various settings, Dr. Ford also knows it can become tiresome at times. Some days she is tired from work, different meetings, the grocery store or just being out in public. However, in her opinion, that does not mean that being adaptable in this manner is not essential. According to Dr. Ford, “codeswitching has elevated [her] in many ways professionally and personally.”

With a background in multiculturalism and diversity education, Dr. Ford suggests that codeswitching can open doors in environments where people may not hold power. Most importantly, she acknowledges that many individuals do not have the jurisdiction to dictate their future. Without this authority, people have to learn about their environments in order to thrive, even in unwelcoming climates.

Dr. Ford urges others to have a strong sense of self. As a result, “just because you codeswitch does not mean you give up who you are; at the end of the day you have to know who you are, and you have to be confident in it.”

In the comments under the Twitter post, many people searched for the same shirt to purchase. For those still looking, Dr. Ford found her sweater a few years ago on a website called teespring.com. Other commenters also posted links to similar shirts which stated “too proud to codeswitch.”

Everyone has a choice about the way they choose to communicate with others. It can be tiresome and annoying, but what would society look like if codeswitching didn’t exist?

Years ago, when Dr. Ford’s mother was training to become a registered nurse during segregation, she had to codeswitch. In her nursing program, which was predominantly white, she had to adjust to her environment. From her own knowledge, Men and women in the civil rights movement used codeswitching in order to take their place back in society. Similarly, when we codeswitch, “we are standing up and saying we have a right to be here just like you do.” According to Dr. Ford, if we did not codeswitch, “we would truly be segregated,” and the current generation is being challenged with that.

Overall Dr. Ford believes that it is not about giving up one’s identity to codeswitch. People do not have to negotiate who they are in order to do so. Dr. Ford appreciates the recognition from Twitter, and she is glad it gave the community something to discuss. The UIS community can now bring up their own ideas and opinions about codeswitching, which is also an important step in learning about its role in society and each person’s life.