Christina Lin

Cancel culture targets Chinese in California university

Cancel culture and anti-Chinese racism in the U.S. appears to have reached a new high, with a California university suspending a communications professor for saying a common Chinese word in class that some ignorant individuals misconstrued as a racial slur.

In September, the University of Southern California (USC) suspended Greg Patton, a professor of clinical business communication, for allegedly saying a racial slur while teaching an online course. During a recent virtual classroom session, he was discussing public speaking patterns and the filler words that Chinese people use to space out their ideas such as um, er, etc., Patton mentioned that Chinese often use a word that is pronounced nega, 那个.

“In China the common word is ‘that, that that that,’ so in China it might be ‘nega, nega, nega, nega,'” Patton explained to his class. “So there’s different words you’ll hear in different cultures, but they’re vocal disfluencies.” 


However, some students thought the Chinese word nega sounds like the N-word, took offense to the Chinese language, and reported the matter to the administration.  Patton is now suspended,  according to Campus Reform.

The USC Marshall School of Business provided Campus Reform with a statement that “Recently, a USC faculty member during class used a Chinese word that sounds similar to a racial slur in English. We acknowledge the historical, cultural and harmful impact of racist language.”

USC is now “offering supportive measures to any student, faculty, or staff member who requests assistance.” The school is “committed to building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive.”

So, USC wants a culture of respect and dignity where diverse members can feel safe and supported, except for the ethnic Chinese. Outraged, many USC alumni have written and decried they were “deeply disappointed that the spurious charge has the additional feature of casting insult toward the Chinese language, the most spoken in the world, and characterized it and its usage as vile.”

Now it seems Chinese-speaking students at USC would constantly need to watch their back for fear of being suspended, because their language contains many words that may phonetically sound offensive and insulting to other students on campus.  This discrimination is atop the already prevalent sinophobia they face across American universities. Perhaps the school may even follow in Duke University professor’s footsteps to ban Chinese students from speaking Chinese on campus altogether.

Other alumni have come to Professor Patton’s defense, and many observers have noted the absurdity of USC’s actions, which will cost them dearly among the Chinese-American community. It is clear that Patton had no intention to harm anyone as he’s merely teaching the Chinese language, yet ignorant individuals saw malice and racism where none were intended.

The resemblance between the Chinese word and English word is purely coincidental, as one can find numerous similar sounding words between other foreign languages and the English language.  In fact, there are many words in English that sound perverse and repugnant in the Chinese language, but the Chinese do not suspend American professors for “offensive” and “racist” slurs simply based on their pronunciation.

Yet, the fact USC found this innocent incident offensive and worthy of losing one’s livelihood is a worrisome reflection of the intellectual and ethical standard of this university.

As The Dispatch’s David French wrote, “I’ll say this ten thousand times, but if anyone thinks they’re helping the cause of racial equality by engaging in absurd, over-the-top speech policing of innocent people, then they’re sadly mistaken.”

Now, one wonders if USC students and faculty plan to write a letter to China and ask them to change their language.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) research consultant for Jane's Information Group.