Opinion: Phantoms of the Opera – what code-switching looks like


Elijiah Armour, General Editor

Well, hello everyone! I hope the day so far for you has been lovely!

I hope mine will be just as great as yours after I tire myself of switching between who I am every few minutes… and just like that, my code-switching has already begun.

This term – code switching – what even is it? The proper dictionary definition is, “The action of shifting between two or more languages, or between dialects or registers of a language, within a discourse, especially in response to a change in social context.”

Long-winded, am I right? Well let’s put this in general terms; Code-switching is when you change how you act in certain situations because it feels right or natural. In one way or another everyone changes how they act, after all we are human and we constantly change, whether for the better or worse. 

Personally, I don’t see code-switching as a bad thing like 99% of the time. I use it in a multitude of ways. Being more proper around people older than me like my parents and staff at school, loosening up a bit around my siblings, and just letting myself shine through around my friends and people who I hold close to me, but even then these aren’t concrete and steadfast, they’re like the tectonic plates – constantly shifting.

Hi, I’m Elijah Armour, and I’m a little chaotic! For the people who know me, they know that I am a mixed race (black and Latin to be precise) and that I am part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but if you didn’t know me, now you do! Just from my life over the years I can think of a plethora of scenarios where I changed a part of myself as either a form of protection, to fit in, because it felt right, or to actually stand out a bit more – even a mixture of any of these. There’s never a time where I don’t feel like I’m slightly changing when in public, but my time of rest is when I’m alone or with my significant other, those are the moments I live for.

Now I think that’s enough of the lightheartedness, let’s get a little bit serious here.

Yes, code-switching can be all fun and games, but as I mentioned before, it can also be used as a form of protection. Unfortunately, there are people in this world who are discriminatory and can be extremely cynical and bigoted. I, just like many other people in this world, can fall subject to these types of people, and as ways of protecting ourselves we code-switch.

When I feel like there’s a chance someone could say something I won’t like, or I’m surrounded by a specific crowd, I ‘dial down’ my flamboyant personality, as I like to say. However, I do more than just that, I also lower the pitch of my voice slightly, switch up my body language and change my diction. It’s a lot to do, and you can bet it’s tiring, but if you do it long enough it just becomes second nature.

Going through day-to-day life isn’t normally easy, it’s tiring just going through the motions and spinning through the Wheel of Fortune to decide, “Which mask will be chosen today?” (cue game show host voice). This adds another layer of complexity to our already complex lives. 

Everyone has their own struggles, whether it be socializing at school, going through the typical 9-5 work day, or just meeting with close or extended family. Hardly anyone can act the same way in all of these situations. If you can, whoever you are, you have earned my utmost respect. 

It’s difficult, now I’ll say that again, it’s difficult, to just be who you are 100% of the time. No matter how old you may get there will still be that subconscious action of a switch, maybe more than one, just flipping on or off as the course of the day goes on.

Now as I near the end of this wonderful symphony of words and thoughts, I’m going to pull it back to me and get a little personal. As someone who is a mix of minorities and a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as someone who has rather sporadic emotions, code-switching is part of my daily routine.

Even within myself I’m an outsider looking in, as well as with my friends. I can see the struggles that they have going on in their lives and watching them put on a happy mask or watching as they slowly lose themselves in their thoughts and blankly stare at nothing can be hard to witness as a bystander. I can’t help but empathize with them and want to help them in some way. I’m the type of friend who tries my best to always cheer up those around me, I can’t always be successful, but if I get a little laugh or chuckle out of them it makes it all worth it.

Robin Williams said something that I can’t help but believe and relate to, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless.”

 Regardless of who you may be or how you may present yourself, always try to be who you are. Each one of us is unique for a reason, a world with everyone the same would be dull and boring. Code switching is never a bad thing if you see it as necessary, so don’t be scared of it, but also don’t hide behind it.

It’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to be vulnerable, and it’s okay to help others. As someone who is a part of Gen Z, “Another day another slay.” In universal terms, there’s always tomorrow, and make the next day even better than the last.

Thank you for reading and keep your head up, your masks are showing.