Fitting in is human: forcing someone to fit in is oppression

Fitting in is human: forcing someone to fit in is oppression

When we engage in cultural code-switching, we alter how we present ourselves to the world to fit specific expectations and standards.

The philosopher Jennifer Morton notes how cultural code-switching involves a ‘much more profound shift than toggling between language or dialects does’ and argues that this kind of code-switching ‘cuts closer to the self’. Similarly, Robin Dembroff and Cat Saint-Croix discuss how cultural code-switching is an effective way to negotiate and switch between entire social identities – in some cases moving between genuine identities and merely apparent or superficial social identities. …

When one is forced to code-switch – to mask or suppress important aspects of their cultural identity and sense of self – the result is a form of oppressive self-silencing. This resonates with what Kristie Dotson has analysed as testimonial smothering: a kind of silencing that occurs when a speaker truncates or censors their testimony because they perceive their audience to lack the competence needed to understand what they’re saying. …

Code-switching under these circumstances involves more than just altering aspects of one’s speech (testimonial smothering), but instead encompasses a broader form of self-silencing and self-censorship that we might call cultural smothering. The pressures to code-switch in these circumstances put into sharp focus a tension between reconciling where one comes from – one’s core values, family, traditions, community and overall sense of self – with where one is aspiring to go.

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