SUSU Movement
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How to Fit a Lion in a Suit: The Pain of Code Switching

         So how do you fit a lion in a suit? In short, you don’t.  Unless you are prepared to swallow your pride, thus creating a vortex of anger that is ready to spin off its axis at any given moment.  The journey to wokeness, black consciousness and pride can be a cocktail of clarity, anger, despair and indispensable energy especially in a white centric environment.  In the words of James Baldwin, “To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

         When amongst my paler suited companions this voiceless anger is deafening.  “What are you working on?” asks a white coworker as I scribble in my notepad during lunch.  “A blog aimed at the destruction of white supremacy”, I snap back as her jaw hits the floor.  Begrudgingly, I can’t express those sentiments in this suffocating suit. I can’t share this anger in this costume of oppression.  My only real answer is “My blog, when I get an idea I must write it down.” And this anger, compounded by the invisible gap in relational sharing that prevents conversations about race between black and white people, makes this suited world increasing unsuitable for a conscious black man.

         Every day that a person is A) not able to be oneself; B) not able to be unapologetically you, unapologetically black; C) not able to share an unfiltered distaste for privilege built on the backs of slaves; D) not able to be loud and verbose about oppressive structures like the prison industrial complex; is another caged day for the lion.  When these things occur it’s as if you’ve hacked off a piece of yourself in order to occupy the environment in which you’ve been so fortunate to find yourself in.  You’ve found yourself in a white collar world with white people that may or may not get it but damn sure don’t care enough about it to give it utterance at the workplace. This code switching becomes more and more detrimental to oneself.

 

“We live in a white world. We know the ways of white folks because a failure to master them is akin to the failure of my classmates to learn English. Your future dims a little. The good slave will always know the master in ways that the good master can never know the slave.”- Ta-Nehisi Coates

 

         Code switching is violent and damaging.  It says that a part of you is not welcomed here.  For me, it’s attune to chopping off your dominant hand and leaving it home as you walk out the door to work.  Only to return to it once you clock-out and become woefully whole again.  But professionalism is professionalism, right? I get that, but back when I was leader of a youth program working with primarily Black and Latino peers, we’d talk.  We got to know each other.  There was comradery there.  We had established that special sauce so that when there was cultural sadness, anger and oppression we openly spoke about it.  They knew my world and I knew theirs not because we occupied the same world, but because we had an open dialogue to share each other’s experiences.

         This is why it has become increasingly important for us to find safe havens not just in our personal lives but in our professional realms as well.  The sickness that transpires from swallowing your guts is not a tolerable illness that we should endure our entire lives. When we have businesses and sectors built by blacks and for blacks, I believe that the perpetual need for violent code-switching will cease to exist.  Imagine, we rebuilt Black Wall Street across the country, across the world.  Envision a culture that makes extraordinary efforts to shop, buy and bank black.  What would it look like to have this circular economic strategy embedded in our communities?  When we reach this pinnacle, there will be a greater opportunity to work and live in black spaces.  By building our businesses we ultimately increase our own job opportunities. This is why SUSU Movement gives me so much hope.  It is not just a desire to be myself in the workplace, but to support others to do the same and bring people on board to a movement where they can freely express themselves.  SUSU is a place to showcase black talent, provide mutual support, strengthen community love and promote economic empowerment for all.  I can think of no greater vision. 

By: Peyton Craig

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