Skip to main content

Here's how 'code-switching' can hurt Black, Indigenous people in Canada

In a dominantly white culture, racialized people in Canada may "codeswitch", Selam Debs, an antiracism coach said.

Code-switching refers to a person changing their behaviour, expression or appearance Debs told CTV's Your Morning on Monday, explaining the reasons for doing so can include safety, job opportunities or quality service.

"Black, Indigenous and racialized folks are often considered 'the other' when it comes to accents," she said. "So we might change the way that we speak, recognizing that it is in relationship with trying to fit into what is considered professional."

Other examples of code-switching include changing hairstyle for a job opportunity, not wearing traditional clothing, or having to consciously avoid being stereotyped.

Black youth feeling they can’t wear certain fashions, due to safety concerns are the types of subtle switches that can weigh on a person, Debs said, which can cause further stress.

"When you are constantly putting yourself in a pretzel, it can lead to anxiety, it can lead to a sense of havoc, feeling impostor syndrome, feeling like you have to work twice as hard, but receive twice as less," she said.

Stopping that pattern requires safe spaces for people to be themselves, and that requires everyone’s consideration, Debs says.

"Who are we holding as the human universal standard? And how can we begin to disrupt that and think about what we consider professional and recognize that the diversity in the representation of cultures and peoples actually makes our spaces more beautiful and more impactful."


To hear the full interview click the video at the top of the article. Top Stories

What you need to know about the election of a new Speaker

On Tuesday, MPs will be electing a new Speaker of the House of Commons, in the wake of Anthony Rota's resignation. It will be a day for the Canadian political history books, as well as a day full of pomp and procedure. Here's what you need to know about the role, the contenders, and the process.

Minimum wage rises in six provinces, but is it enough?

Amid a cost-of-living crisis driving up food bank visits and economic anxiety, the minimum wage increased in six provinces today – but both advocates and critics fear it may not be enough to tackle the overarching problem.

Stay Connected