|Chenjerai Kumanyika must make a "code switch" to fit with America's radio standards.|
When you listen to the radio, what kind of voice does the speaker have? Does the speaker have a certain cadence? Does the speaker by chance, sound... white? African American author Chenjerai Kumanyika thinks so. In an interview posted on NPR, he bluntly said that on the radio he "hear[s] middle aged white dudes, who sound like they just sipped a cup of hot coffee". Simply put, I think he meant that the radio speakers speak with a certain, distinguished and articulate voice, a voice that has become an archetype of American radio. I completely agree with his argument, however, let it be clear that I am not judging the moral ramifications of this archetype, I am only saying that the archetype is accurate.
Kumanyika chose the words "middle aged", "white", and "coffee" in that quote. Generally speaking, when you think of people who drink coffee, you think of a mildly (at the minimum) intelligent person grabbing a cup of coffee before going to work (or school). Someone who grabs coffee might have the luxury to do so, which might connote higher class; the coffee drinker might not be a "working class" person. When the words "white", "coffee", and "middle aged" are combined, you think of someone who is well educated. Middle aged might mean 30-50, so that's past schooling, which means that middle-aged can be associated with being educated. And "white", well... I'm walking a fine line here, but I think to Kumanyika, "white" is associated with being educated. What I am trying to articulate is that author Kumanyika is pointing out the fact that radio speakers tend to sound very educated, and that particular cadence is a must-have in the radio business.
Kumanyika then explained that this is a problem because when he goes on the radio, he must make a "code switch". A code switch is when someone changes their language and speech patterns in a given context. For example, "Yo, 'sup?" vs. "Hi, how are you doing?" is a common code switch. Kumanyika spoke about how it was necessary to make such a switch because "[his] way of speaking is not professional". The colloquial slang he uses among his black friends does not meet American Radio's unexpressed traits of a radio speaker; only proper English is appropriate. Kumanyika can't use his colloquial way of speaking because it does not sound educated.
So what are the results of this? Some of his black friends refuse to listen to his radio shows because of the way he speaks; it sounds too "white", or educated. As you can see, American Radio has a primarily "white" culture, both in the administration and audience; they are an educated group. Kumanyika brazenly admitted that he imagined that the typical radio podcast was recorded in "the back of a Barnes and Nobles". If that doesn't scream "educated" to you, I don't know what education is.