• Creatively Asian

Controversy over USC professor’s use of Chinese word that sounds like the n-word

What happened: On the 20th of August, Professor Greg Patton from the University of Southern California (USC) held a communications lecture where he taught students about filler words such as 'err', 'umm' or 'you know' and mentioned the Chinese language as one of his examples, using the word 那个 (pronounced as nèi ge). Na-ge, sounding similar to the N-word, led to a group of Black MBA candidates complaining to the university, sparking this controversy. The Black MBA candidates stated that their mental health had been affected by this incident, and that Professor Patton “lacks the tact,” “racial awareness” as well as “empathy to lead and teach.”

About the word used: Firstly, it is understandable why the Black MBA students were affected by this situation. However, the similarity in pronunciation between this Mandarin word and the English slur has long been an issue; for example, in July 2016, there was a fight in a subway in the city of Southern Guangzhou after a Black man had mistaken a Chinese man for saying the N-word when he was, in fact, saying the filler word, na-ge. Furthermore, Chinese is a language of its own, making the pronunciation of its words having nothing to do with English, moreover English derogatory terms. Therefore, censorship based on the sole reason that the Mandarin word was mistaken for an English racial slur would be illogical and offensive to Chinese culture. Lastly, the Chinese language is one of the most spoken languages in the world and neither is English the single language spoken in the US.

Just because our language sounds similar to yours does not mean that the implications of it are the same.

Written by Julianne Wong. Edited by Hannah Nguyen.