CodeSwitching: Race and Identity in the Suburban Schoolhouse

An Intimate Portrayal of Self-Identity, Race, Gender & Education
Year Released
Film Length(s)
54 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


CodeSwitching: Race and Identity in the Suburban Schoolhouse is a mashup of personal stories from African-American students, spanning two generations, who signed up for voluntary busing to attend better-resourced suburban schools. It explores shifting race relations in the suburban-urban axis, teen self-perception, and the role gender plays in fitting-in.


An educated citizenry is said to be the backbone of democracy and a crucial bulwark in an increasingly interconnected and hyper-competitive world. Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act helped weave equal education for all into our shared social contract, but this promise has yet to be fully realized. Students who shuttle between their inner-city neighborhoods and the white suburban schools, in pursuit of a better education, find themselves swapping elements of culture, language, and behavior to fit in with their suburban counterparts – Acting or speaking differently based on their surroundings, called code-switching.

For some students, “code-switching” has brought social and professional mobility. For others, the nature of code-switching has been harder to handle, causing anxiety and depression. The shuttling between Boston’s ethnic neighborhoods and predominantly white suburban schools has not been seamless, especially for girls. Too often, girls may face a heightened burden of both ostracization back home and feelings of isolation in their adopted schools. This had led to anxiety and depression and in extreme cases even attempted suicide.

Awards and Screenings

Grant Recipient from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities
Grant Recipient from the Mass Cultural Council
2021 National TV Broadcast by NETA on PBS stations across the country, 2021

Director Commentary

Nowadays, the influence of Social Media can compound their troubles, making it close to impossible to turn off the spotlight. Social media platforms such as After School and Swilfie are double-edged swords in students’ social lives. While usually facilitating positive communication and connection, these anonymous apps also enable classmates to gossip, demonstrate their social statuses, and comment on other students on a relentless basis. Pressures to “act white” or even “act more black” are common for participants, who struggle to bridge the gap between home life and school culture. In the process, they quickly learn to act and speak differently depending on the venue. Hence, Code-Switching

Our storyline draws out the predicaments—alienation and it’s side effects—that often face high school and middle school teenage students in the METCO program, especially teen girls. They can feel estranged from their neighborhood friends and isolated at school. Stresses that their male counterparts may avoid, as teenage boys can reap thicker status and social benefits from athletics.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Director's Commentary
  • Resources for Educators

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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