Moo, Code Switching, Microaggressions, and the African American Experience



This morning, my youngest son Bryant, nicknamed “Moo”, had his initial interview to be considered for participation in the Governor’s School Program next summer.  This program is designed to expand the knowledge base of bright young minds in the subject of their choice within the curriculum. Bryant chose natural science for his potential learning experience. He loves science. It is a subject that is familiar to him; his paternal grandfather was a science teacher for over 30 years; one of his maternal uncles is a retired chemist who once wrote a text book for a course he was teaching.

Bryant is very bright, but he is also a very modern teenager. He enjoys all the teenager activities: video games, listening to music, vacations, hanging out, etc. He also plays sports and is a very good offensive lineman. If I had to select an appropriate description for Moo, it would be “well rounded.” He has had enough life experience to know when to be a “regular teenager” and when to “act like you got some sense”, as my folks used to call it. Being able to change your vernacular, posture, or even style of dress according to one’s environment is called “code switching.” Many people in the African American community are very familiar with this term and are adept at this skill, especially if one works in a professional environment. A majority of us were taught to be more relaxed in our community settings, but when it comes to work or presenting oneself in an intelligent and beneficial light, we may speak more succinctly, ensure our wardrobe is appropriate for our audience, and for god’s sake, we better have correct posture.

My husband Paul and I discussed this ritual with Bryant early on. To be very honest, because of his intellect, we knew he would be placed in positions where “code switching” was not only encouraged, but expected if he were to be successful. Today was no different. After his interview, he walked over to where I was sitting with a parent of another potential candidate. He smiled his bright smile and chuckled. “I code switched really well.” I nodded my head in affirmation and we began to talk about his interview.

Bryant shared his concerns about one of the interviewers. She was never mean to him. However, she made a couple of comments that didn’t “sit well” with him. After he pointed her out, I understood his feeling. This same woman came to me while he was in the second part of his interview and told me, “You should be so proud! He is really doing well!” I would have been okay with that one statement. But she kept saying it, as if she were surprised or as if she was trying to comfort me. I just nodded my head, pursed my lips and said, “Thank you. We expect Bryant to do well.” To me, her statements felt like a microaggression, which is defined as, “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.” (Oxford Dictionary)

The interview ended and we drove away from the building. The rest of the ride home was filled with listening to Kanye’s new album and processing Bryant’s feelings about his experience. I reminded him: keep being you, don’t worry about what other people expect or don’t expect from you. But ALWAYS have a spirit of excellence. I empathize with Moo and his experience; I have been in Moo’s position before. You’re not sure why people are making certain statements to you or towards you. You just maintain your composure, show them what you know, and keep it moving. You don’t want to be labeled as “angry”, “difficult”, or “nonconformist”.

As smoothly as we had been taught, we fell right back in our comfortable conversation. I was “Ma” and Bryant was “Moo”. We laughed and joked about his interview and life in general. I dropped him off at school and started my work day. As I write this, my heart aches. It aches because in 2019, our kids are still having to “prove” themselves. As parents, we have to further fortify their spirits and esteem to protect against overt bias or covert microaggressions, all the while trying to find the balance between instilling confidence or breeding arrogance.

This is the world we live in.


Peace and Blessings,


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