Written by Avery Ware
Recently, The Advocate, a popular LGBT publication, published an article about Insecure‘s newest ostensibly gay character, Ahmal (Issa’s brother), and code-switching.
As the piece first drifted down my Twitter feed, I was happy to see that someone was finally addressing the concept of code-switching and why queer men—Black queer men, specifically—feel the need to do it. When I first saw the episode, I clocked the code-switching immediately. I just knew that the articles and think pieces would be published in abundance. But to my dismay, I saw nothing. “I must be trippin’,” I thought. “Maybe he wasn’t code-switching and I’m putting too much thought into it.” However, after seeing that someone else had peeped it, too, I was affirmed.
When I took the time to really examine the piece, I realized that it yielded a lackluster attempt at drawing attention to the practice of code-switching. It didn’t explore why Black queer men find it necessary to code-switch, especially in spaces occupied mostly by Black cisgender, heterosexual (cishet) men, with any level of scrutiny or vigilance.
I think that it is high time to have a conversation about who has the social, cultural, and intellectual aptitude to discuss certain issues and practices. The article published by The Advocate was written by a white person, seemingly for a white audience. It was written by someone with no cultural understanding of what it is like for a queer Black man like Ahmal to enter into a Black cishet space—spaces like Issa’s Wine Down—and why he would feel the need to code-switch. Why he would go from shaking Tiffany’s husband’s hand and greeting him with a “Wassup bro?” to greeting Tiffany with “Tiff-fa-kneeeee!!,” snaps included. And because the writer has no social or cultural awareness of what that experience is like, it made for a colorless piece that lacked the analysis necessary to interrogate such an experience and how it shows up both on and off screen.
For someone like me, I know all too well what it is like to code-switch. We all do it and we do it in multiple ways, for multiple reasons. For example, if I’m telling my mom a story, it might start off like, “So lemme tell you what happened Friday night,” but if I’m telling my best friend the same story, it’ll probably sound more like, “Lemme tell you how ole girl had me fucked up.” Saying the same thing, with the same intended message, but differing in both language and approach. Or, if I’m greeting my long time, cishet homeboy, I’ll likely shake his hand—or, as we understand it culturally, dap him up—in the same way Ahmal greeted Tiffany’s husband. But if I’m greeting one of my queer homeboys, I’ll probably greet him with a kiss on the cheek and a hug. Though the two greetings are culturally different, the way in which they are received are the same.
There are plenty of reasons why queer Black men would feel the need to code-switch, especially in cishet spaces. I make a conscious effort to not suppress my queerness to make cishet folks feel more comfortable around me. I do the same thing with my blackness in white spaces. As I understand it, here are four reasons for Ahmal’s code-switching