Story by Amber Chen
Illustration by Terry Song
Professor Greg Patton of the University of Southern California (USC) faced backlash following a now viral lecture he gave about Chinese filler words. Common filler words in the Mandarin are “nà ge” or “nèi ge,” which both translate to “that,” but when enunciated sound just like the N-word, a racial slur.
In a letter to the university, the Black students wrote that the term “should be carefully used, especially in the context of speaking Chinese within… the United States.” They also noted that the professor had pronounced the word incorrectly and cited that fellow Chinese were “appalled” by what they had heard.
USC responded in an uncharacteristically swift fashion, immediately denouncing Patton. Yet, it has been established that Patton did in fact pronounce the word correctly. A petition, signed by nearly 100 USC Marshall alumni and sent to Dean Geoffrey Garrett and other USC leadership, stated the folloing, “We unanimously recognize Prof Patton’s use of ‘nà ge’ as an accurate rendition of common Chinese use, and an entirely appropriate and quite effective illustration of the use of pauses.”
The Black students in this case were absolutely valid in their feelings, especially as they confided in Mandarin-speaking students before releasing the letter. The blame lies solely within USC for performatively taking advantage of the situation that increases xenophobia towards the Asian community and in turn, harms the Black community.
People have been understandably outraged about this situation, however a lot of this resentment has been tainted with racist invalidations of these Black students’ feelings, rather than targeted at USC. The controversy has sparked the following remarks from YouTube commentary videos and South Pasadena residents: “‘This is classic manipulation from Black people exploiting a ‘victim mentality,’ ‘Black people are so entitled,’ ‘This is why I don’t support BLM,’ ‘Why do they think EVERYTHING is always about them?? Smh…’”
These statements are examples of cherry-picking, a logical fallacy in which people give a lot of leverage to specific situations that seem to confirm whatever position they want to uphold while ignoring a large amount of data contradictory to their point. The cherry-picking logical fallacy is not just specific in this case but has been extremely pervasive in regards to the BLM movement as a whole.
The implications of cherry-picking always distract from the larger issue at hand. In this situation, it is America’s systemic racism and the institutions like USC that uphold injustice. Out of all the complaints of racism the university has, the administration manipulatively acted on the easiest situation, in order to avoid actions of actual importance.