How sounding black can cost you at work | WBEZ
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Live call-in show: Code switching with Richard Steele

Richard Steele hosted the first of three one-hour specials for Front & Center.

He discussed the practice of code-switching, or using Ebonics, Spanglish, Taglish (Tagalog/English) or other ethnic-based languages and its effect on credibility in school and the workplace.

Some of the country’s leading language experts will join us for a call-in conversation that invites the audience to explain how code-switching affects their lives.

How sounding black can cost you at work

Northwestern University School of Law professor Zev Eigen talked with host Richard Steele on Monday about how and why many Americans–especially ethnic minorities–code switch between different types of language depending on the situation.

It's an uncomfortable reality for many that the way they speak among friends and family doesn't fly at work.

"I would imagine for job seekers, those who are from outside the country who may not feel as much of a pull against their identity for 'sounding American' versus someone who is native here who is told, 'Hey, sound more acceptable in the workplace,'" Eigen said.

Eigen said being able to code switch in the workplace gives some workers an economic advantage, citing research by University of Chicago's Jeffrey Grogger.

Freakonomics took a closer look at his disturbing research on how "sounding black" can cost a worker thousands of dollars over their lifetime.

"...Blacks who 'sound black' earn salaries that are 10 percent lower than blacks who do not 'sound black,' even after controlling for measures of intelligence, experience in the work force, and other factors that influence how much people earn."

Read more about this research on the Freakonomics blog.

Eigen was part of an expert panel that discussed for Front & Center's literacy series where callers from around the Great Lakes chimed in on their experiences code switching in the work place.


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