To Censor is to Impress

What is there not to love about Family Weekend? It is a time of reunion and joy. A weekend filled to the brim with sunshine, and of course my favorite: code-switching. There is something instinctive about parents feeling the need to make subtle adjustments to their behaviors and speech habits, in fear of perpetuating stereotypes, of their actions being held over their child’s head. Code-switching is a behavior which many families have subconsciously adopted, especially in a space where there are so many other families and teachers to please and impress. Though not intentionally, the culture of Family Weekend only further illuminates students’ desperation to suppress their parents’ characteristics if they are not mannerisms that fit into the dominant culture of their rich, white counterparts.

Code-switching is omnipresent, and I always knew it was something that I and many others grapple with at Andover. But it was when José Oliverez, the spoken word poet at All-School Meeting, talked about never translating the Spanish in his poetry for readers, challenging his audience to work to understand his experience, that it truly came to my attention the amount of times I have been translating my culture for others, or rather making it more palatable for my environment. This subconscious need to assimilate into the dominant culture of Andover soon manifested itself in the conduct that I would force the rest of my family to uphold. Ever since the first time I had to introduce my parents to this campus, every car ride starts with these few words to my parents: “Remember, don’t be too loud.” To be honest, my parents are not loud people at all––maybe a little outgoing, but never loud. However, it is this fear of them being perceived as obnoxious or distasteful to another not from the same culture that makes me hold them back. It is the fear that our culture of boisterous laughing and talking with hands will be looked down upon and judged as discourteous and uncivil, instead of appreciated as them being a beautiful unreserved amiability. 

I spent the Saturday of Family Weekend sitting in Samuel Phillips Hall, observing as students brought their parents to and from classrooms, and to meet other parents. Out of the three hours that I spent sitting on the bench in the Sam Phil lobby, the moments that I remember do not include the times when I had to turn “Bullfingles” into “Bullfinches” and “Jelbs” into “Gelbs.” Instead, it was the quieting of the guffaws near me when a kid introduced his parents of color to a white adult. I distinctly remember how the parents would start covering their mouths when they smiled or ate in front of their son’s friends. Their actions would instantly become more “polite,” more palatable, for fear of embarrassing themselves, for fear of reflecting poorly upon their kid. In that moment it was made clear to me that there were many parents who subconsciously knew the importance of code-switching, and how it would improve the image that they put out in front of others.

But why do we feel this way? Why do parents and students alike, especially those who are people of color, feel they have no option but to edit the very mannerisms that make them lovable in their own cultures to fit into Phillips Academy? I believe that it is the very fact that Phillips Academy is so heterogeneous, filled with various cultures and languages, that code-switching is even more required. With the diversity of cultures, comes a diversity of assumptions that follows. To beat these assumptions it is easier to assimilate into the culture that everyone praises, picking up the behaviors of the rich, white families that other adults seem to take more seriously, that teachers seem to gravitate towards. It is as if code-switching is not only a way to fit in, as a way to beat the stereotypes, but to get something more, to put one’s children in a better position of success. 

And if we truly boil down the culture of Family Weekend, is it not just parents finding various ways to ingratiate themselves to their children’s teachers and other families? Family Weekend only perpetuates this idea that adopting the mannerisms of the rich, white families that we are surrounded with is the easiest way to put our best foot forward and impress those that surround us.