‘Sorry to Bother You’ sparks discussion about code-switching

A phenomenal film, written and directed by Boots Riley, debuted this summer: “Sorry to Bother You.” Unique in plot line and concept, this film show­cases the idea of “white voice” in a funny and thought-provoking way. White voice is a form of code-switching — or changing of one’s communication style and dialect — that many minority groups utilize in professional situations in order to sound “more white” and climb the professional ladder. They aim to deter racism and linguistic discrimi­nation by using white voice. This sys­temic racism rooted in American culture and how individuals try to maneuver it is exposed in “Sorry to Bother You.”

Main character Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) takes on the world of telemarketing with very little success in the beginning. His luck turns around once colleague Langston (Danny Glov­er) shares how he has found success as a telemarketer: “Let me give you a tip. You wanna make some money here? Use your white voice.” Cassius reluc­tantly gives it a try, and upon opening his mouth, the voice of David Cross comes out. This voice gives the mental image of a white man dressed in Dock­ers, a pair of Sperry’s and a pastel-col­ored designer button up.

It’s as if a whole new world opens up to Cassius once he begins using this voice. Not only are potential customers staying on the line, they exchange witty banter as Cassius makes sale after sale. When his success is recognized, he is moved to the position of “power caller” in an executive sector of tele­marketing — in which there is only one other man of color. Upon meeting the other black power caller, Cassius speaks in his regular voice. He is quick­ly reminded by the other black caller that it is “white voice only zone” in the power caller office.

In this movie, the use of white voice was enough to propel Cassius to eco­nomic success. However, some minor­ities may not be able to get to that point. A recent labor discrimination study in the American Economic Review found that resumes with black-sounding names are 50 percent less likely to re­ceive a call back for an interview. Mean­ing, even when candidates send in re­sumes with equal qualifications, Emily and Greg have unearned advantages over Jamal and Lakisha — solely because of their names. The current American workplace is rooted in bias and per­petuates racist practices in many ways.

“Sorry to Bother You” is phenom­enal because it helps open discussion revolving around these real world issues. While the use of a dubbed white voice is pretty humorous in nature, this film sheds light on code-switching and fur­thers racial discourse in America. This film provides a peek into the trials of assimilation that minorities experience in the workplace and many other areas of everyday life. But in the end, white voice is just another hoop of inequality minorities must jump through in order to experience success in America.

COURTESY OF ANNAPURNA PICTURES

Alex Alderman

Alex is studying sustainable urban development. She loves going to events around Tacoma and telling people about them. Her goal is to use her degree to make cities more sustainable.