Much has been written about Hillary Clinton’s code switching — from adapting a smorgasbord of Southern accents, to dropping her “g” sounds from “-ing” words (participles and gerunds) in talks in Ohio and Texas.
Clinton famously caught ire for her comments on the hip-hop morning radio and talk show "The Breakfast Club" in 2016 after hosts DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God asked what item the then-presidential candidate always keeps in her bag. “Hot sauce,” Clinton responded, in what was largely interpreted as an attempt to pander to black voters.
According to a new study from a peer-reviewed scientific journal from the American Psychological Association, Clinton is not alone: White liberals dumb themselves down when they speak to minorities, black people in particular.
In the context of a book club email, “a new study suggests that the words you use may depend on whether the club secretary’s name is Emily (“a stereotypically white name,” the study says) or Lakisha (“a stereotypically black name”),” Isaac Stanley-Becker wrote in a Nov. 30 Washington Post article. “If you’re a white liberal writing to Emily, you might use words like 'melancholy' or 'euphoric' to describe the mood of the book, whereas you might trade these terms out for the simpler 'sad' or 'happy' if you’re corresponding with Lakisha. But if you’re a white conservative, your diction won’t depend on the presumed race of your interlocutor.”
Reverends Irene Monroe and Emmett G. Price III joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio for their weekly All Revved Up segment to unpack the phenomenon, which Monroe says is a product of white liberals refusing to acknowledge their own racist behavior.
“You know what I define ‘liberal racism’ to be? I find it to be a toxic mixture of good intentions with unexamined implicit racism," Monroe said. “It’s the whole idea that 'I’m going to relate to you, I’m trying to be an ally,' and they think they’re talking to a child, [and] it’s very patronizing.”
The study describes the behavior as a “competence downshift” exhibited by white liberals.
“That’s what I call white code switching. They call it 'competence downshift,'” Monroe said. “I’m not surprised at all … How racism shows its face has a lot to do with region, generation and expression.”
According to the study, titled “Self-Presentation in Interracial Settings: The Competence Downshift by White Liberals,” white liberals “unwittingly” draw on negative stereotypes in an effort to appear "folksy," which ultimately translates as patronizing.
“I’m not big on titles and whatnot, but if I get called ‘Emmett’ versus ‘Mr. Price’ versus ‘Reverend Dr. Price,’ you can tell who is talking to me, based on what the nomenclature is and what people use,” Price said. “It’s the same thing … The notion of, if I’m dressed in my radio uniform versus my TV uniform versus my preaching uniform versus my, you know, statesman uniform … Again, people make assumptions based on how you dress.”
“Your white friends will do this. They’ll go, “Yo, whassup girl?’” Monroe said, “And they’ll say, ‘Girlfriend… show me some love! Show me some love!’”