Switching the code for social harmony

Sep 2, 2020 by

by Melanie Phillips:

Our shared culture is being divided by boiling resentment.

Last week, BBC Radio Four broadcast a programme about “code-switching”.

This term started life in linguistics, where it means alternating between two or more languages during a conversation.

Now, though, it’s become a weapon on the identity politics battleground. Black culture warriors complain they feel under pressure to “code-switch” in order to conform to white society in language, tone, dress, body language and behaviour.

The BBC programme was presented by Lucrece Grehoua, who was born in Britain but whose parents came from Ivory Coast. She claimed that she and other black people were required to “code-switch” in order to be accepted into middle-class white culture with which, she claimed, they had little in common.

Really? Precisely which bit of this culture was alien to her? The middle-class bit, or the white bit?  Come to that, what exactly is “white culture”? Or is it just that white people are allegedly all middle-class, or all middle-class people are allegedly white?

Anyway, poor Grehoua had been forced to undertake an “unending journey into poshness, pronouncing all my words in a different way” and adopting a “high-pitched voice” to sound more “accommodating”.

It wasn’t possible, she said, to be “black and direct”. People like her had to shed their “Multicultural London English”, known as MLE, which featured neologisms such as “innit” instead of “isn’t it”. This effort was, apparently, exhausting.

I listened to all this astounded. Quite apart from the anti-white racism and risible equation of “white” and “middle-class”, she was racialising and anathematising something that just about everyone does at one time or another.

People constantly switch idiom, clothing or behaviour to adapt to different circumstances. Like many lower-class people from all ethnicities who are ambitious for their children, my own poorly-educated parents ensured I was taught Standard English and Received Pronunciation in order to have better prospects than they did.

People put on smart clothes for a job interview. Teachers will adopt one way of speaking for their staffroom colleagues and another for their pupils in the playground. A man who normally talks in profanities may moderate his language when going for lunch with his in-laws. None of this has got anything to do with racism or “white” culture.

Given that all this is entirely normal and commonplace, how could Grehoua be so unaware of it? How did she instead arrive at such a perverse conclusion?

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