I've been code-switching all my life—altering how I speak depending on who's around—starting when I was a girl in Connecticut, where I was always the only black kid in my class.

I first learned how it was done at home, where my CPA father and PhD mom would walk through the door and shed their professional demeanor as effortlessly as they hung up their coats. Their conversation bounced from English to Shona, their native tongue from Zimbabwe. Safely inside our center-hall colonial, my parents, siblings, and I didn't have to pretend. But Mom and Dad lectured me about avoiding Ebonics (a.k.a. African American vernacular)—to be "articulate" in the white world.

In college, I finally developed relationships with black people outside my family. Maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise when one of them told me, "You talk like a white girl." I knew I didn't sound like Queen Latifah on Living Single, but I was caught off guard. So I kept enunciating with my professors and started slinging slang in the dorm. I still code-switch, like when I tell my bestie that a party was "lit," then explain to my boss that "last night was fun." It's just easier that way.

I used to wonder whether my parents were ashamed of being black. But I know now that's not why they code-switched. They loved their blackness; they just worried that the rest of the world didn't share the feeling.

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