To be, or not to be…Black: The effects of racial codeswitching on perceived professionalism in the workplace

By: Courtney McCluney, Myles I. Durkee, Richard E. Smith II, Kathrina J. Robotham, Serenity Sai-Lai Lee

McCluney, C. L., Durkee, M. I., Smith, R., Robotham, K. J., & Lee, S. S. L. (2021). To be, or not to be… Black: The effects of racial codeswitching on perceived professionalism in the workplace. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 97, 104199


Black people engage in a variety of behaviors to avoid stereotyping and promote a professional image in the workplace. Racial codeswitching is one impression management strategy where Black people adjust their self-presentation to receive desirable outcomes (e.g., perceived professionalism) through mirroring the norms, behaviors, and attributes of the dominant group (i.e., White people) in specific contexts. In this study, we examine whether racial codeswitching enhances perceived professionalism for Black employees. We investigate Black and White participants’ perceptions of racial codeswitching and subsequent evaluations of professionalism through manipulating three behaviors (e.g., adjusting style of speech, name selection, hairstyle) of a fictitious Black coworker in two, between-subjects experimental studies using audio and written stimuli. Results indicate that employees who engage in racial codeswitching are consistently perceived as more professional by both Black and White participants compared to employees who do not codeswitch (Studies 1 & 2). We also found that Black participants perceive the non-codeswitching employee as more professional than White participants (Studies 2a & 2b). Black and White participants’ evaluation of specific codeswitching behaviors varied with both groups supporting adjustment of speech, opposing adjusting one’s name, and diverging on wearing natural hairstyles (Studies 1 & 2). Although racial codeswitching is presented as an impression management strategy, it may reinforce White professional standards and generate social and psychological costs for Black employees. Implications of our work for impression management and impression formation are further discussed.