Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This


On Being Black In LA: Code Switching To Survive Crossing Racial Lines

Before you
Dear reader, we're asking you to help us keep local news available for all. Your tax-deductible financial support keeps our stories free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls. We believe when reliable local reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.
People protest the death of George Floyd in the Fairfax District on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Josie Huang/LAist)

The theme of LAist's Black History Month coverage this year is: “What does it mean to be Black in L.A.?” We'll publish reponses from community members and staff throughout the month. Add your voice to the conversation below.

Yesterday, we shared a response from a West Hollywood woman who found being bused across town as a kid in the '60s helped her see L.A. as a "place of possibilities."

Today, a Hollywood woman who grew up in the San Fernando Valley writes about her experiences with code-switching -- to fit into her Catholic prep school and with lifelong city kids she encountered on summers in St. Louis. She reflects on how that duality still affects her as an adult.

Support for LAist comes from

"I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley a.k.a the 818. I lived with my mother in the Valley for most of the year, and during the summer break I would visit my dad in St. Louis. My mother was a big proponent of education and working hard to make sure I was able to get the same opportunities that wealthier, smart white kids had. She insisted on sending me to private schools during my K-12 years. I spent a big chunk of that going to a private Catholic college prep school. I am grateful for her pushing for me to go to those schools and her forethought about how that decision would provide me a bigger leg up in life.

"But it was tough at times. I had to be two different Ashleys. I was around 98% higher income white kids who had both parents in their home. I had to be a chameleon and do my best to fit in with the popular culture. I was good at it. I am a people person and can make friends with anyone. I was friends or friendly with lots of different groups. I was co-captain of my high school’s cheer squad, likely the first Black one too.

"Then summer would roll around and I would be in St. Louis. There I would have to figure out how to blend in with the more urban, city Black kids around the neighborhood. I got teased a lot because of my California-white girl voice, as the kids called it. I also had to learn how to blend in with the rest of my relatives, nieces and cousins, who grew up around mostly Black culture.

"As an adult, I have found a way to be more comfortable with my background and embracing all of my parts, but a lot of being Black in L.A./the Valley for me is about duality: knowing how to code switch and how to turn up the Blackness or turn it down sometimes. I know in a perfect world we would say that we should just be ourselves, but in reality, you can't do that sometimes. At least, that is how I feel. As a Black woman in a professional world, you sometimes have to know how to adjust personalities."

Ashley, Hollywood


The first installment of our The 8 Percent project began exploring the inextricable ties between L.A. and its Black residents — how Black migration, community and culture have shaped and changed L.A. For Black History Month, we’re homing in on a more specific experience — yours. Tell us: What does it mean to you to be Black in L.A.?

Support for LAist comes from

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate Now.