The website of the University of Southern California proudly lists a multitude of “Student Equity and Inclusion Programs” which are designed to create “a sense of belonging” for the diverse array of students at USC. But when a Communications Professor at the university attempted to educate his students about Chinese linguistic patterns, explaining the meaning of a Chinese word that—to the uneducated ear of American students sounded similar to the N-word—he was reported as a racist and suspended from teaching the class.
Greg Patton is a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business and an “expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness.” During the fall 2020 semester, Patton taught an online class during which he spoke about the use of “filler words” in the speech of various languages.
“If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language,” the professor explained. “Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’”
To a native Chinese speaker, the word sounds nothing like the American racial slur. Patton himself has worked in China although is not a fluent speaker of Chinese. Despite the crystal-clear context of Patton’s example, and his status as an expert in communications, a number of African-American students were so offended by his example that they sent a letter to the Marshall School of Business Dean Geoffrey Garrett accusing Patton of racial insensitivity and stating that he was unfit to teach the class.
“The way we heard it in class was indicative of a much more hurtful word with tremendous implications for the Black community,” stated the students’ letter. “There are over 10,000 characters in the Chinese written language and to use this phrase, a clear synonym with this derogatory N-Word term, is hurtful and unacceptable to our USC Marshall community. The negligence and disregard displayed by our professor was very clear in today’s class.” The letter was signed “Black M.B.A. Candidates c/o 2022.”
Incredibly, instead of explaining to the complaining students that they were displaying cultural insensitivity towards the Chinese people and language, USC chose to uphold their absurd and racist complaint towards the professor for exposing them to an example of Chinese speech. Nor did USC administrators counter the accusation that the Professor’s lesson had “tremendous implications for the Black community” because it used a word from a foreign language that “is indicative” of the only word in the English language that is so universally despised by English speaking people that it is effectively banned speech for anyone who isn’t black. Encouraging hysterical reactions to innocuous events like this encourages racist paranoia. The USC student body is hardly racist, while encouraging reactions like this only feeds the (racist) delusion that it is.
But these considerations didn’t faze the hyper zealous social justice warriors at USC. Dean Garrett wrote back to the complaining students and explained that Professor Patton would be removed as the instructor of the course, effective immediately.
“It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,” Garrett wrote. He claimed that Patton had “repeated several times a Chinese word that sounds very similar to a vile racial slur in English. Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students, and for that I am deeply sorry.”
For its embarrassing kowtowing to culturally insensitive students who insisted that a professor forego the use of a Chinese example because it phonetically resembles a racial slur, USC belongs on the list of America’s most racist universities.
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