Coat-Switching 101

As the days grow shorter and the weather grows colder, it’s time for coat-switching! What, you may ask, is coat-switching? It is a term, according to movie critic Peter Howell, “which means deliberately shifting cultural traits and vernacular to suit different circumstances”.

If you’re repeatedly re-reading this, it’s because the term used here is actually code-switch, as in Code Switch by NPR. Code-switching is something practically every minority does, but it’s perhaps best known within the Black community. To be more technical, it’s a linguistic term for switching between languages; think Spanglish. And increasingly, it’s being used by educators to help Black students view Black English as a legitimate language and not as “slang”. To quote Dave Chappelle, “every black American is bilingual. We speak street vernacular and we speak job interview.”

You don’t consciously learn it, but by living in a White-dominant culture, you learn workarounds to a system that devalues your own background. This affects minorities across the board–“Your English is so good” is something many Asian Americans and Black Americans have heard in life, although usually for different reasons. The assumption here is that the Asian person’s English is good for an immigrant, the Black person’s English is good for a Black person. Both assumptions are as harmful as they are ignorant.

Peter Howell’s mistake was hearing code-switch (a concept practically every person of color is aware of, at least subconsciously) as coat-switching. In fairness, it does make sense–you’re changing coats/identities depending on who you’re with. The editor of NPR’s Code Switch weighed in too, tweeting this last night:

In fairness, Howell edited his article after realizing his mistake. But the error connects to the larger idea that White America is really out of touch with what minorities see and experience; Fusion ran an article yesterday about this exact issue, focusing on white youth and youth of color. Until we can get people on the same page about what’s going on in the country, we’re going to keep having these major divides.

Further reading:

Slate’s Lexicon Valley has a great podcast episode exploring the history of Black English that’s worth a listen.

Stanford’s Geoffrey K Pullam wrote on Black English being seen as a language back in 1999–so no, this isn’t a Millennial “Everyone’s special” thing.

The Laziness of All Look Same

As an Asian American growing up in the New York area, I love Jeremy Lin. I don’t even like basketball, but it was exciting to see someone who looks like me on television in any capacity, let alone sports. My brother has his Lin Knicks jersey, and I swore this season I would get into basketball enough to follow the Nets for Lin alone. So I was intrigued when the New York Times ran an essay yesterday by sports correspondent Andrew Keh called ‘I Was Never Jackie Chan, and I’m Not Jeremy Lin‘. It’s a great read, and quick, but if you haven’t seen it yet, Keh writes on the reality Asian Americans face being compared to other Asian Americans.

“An absence of reference points for Asian identity in popular culture has helped create a perpetual stream of hackneyed encounters, for men and women, children and adults,” writes Keh.

He notes, in a way that’s both humorous and infuriating, that he looks nothing like Jeremy Lin. He’s just an Asian guy.

Continue reading “The Laziness of All Look Same”