US professor accused of using racial slur for saying ‘that’ in Mandarin

Professor Greg Patton was accused of using a racial slur after saying the Chinese word for "that" on a Zoom class. (Screengrab of @CabotPhillips/Twitter)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Chinese pronunciation can sometimes be a tricky thing, especially in these difficult times.

That’s the lesson a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) learned (the hard way) after he was placed on leave when he mispronounced a Chinese phrase, making it sound like a racial slur. 

According to foreign media, Greg Patton, a professor at the USC’s Marshall School of Business was talking about “filler words” during his lecture and mentioned the Chinese equivalent of “that” as an example, which sounds like “nèi gè” (那個). 

However, because of his poor pronunciation skills, a group of black MBA students thought the professor was saying a racial n-word slur, and claimed that it “affected their mental health and their ability to focus on their studies”, according to reports.

The group subsequently released a statement saying that the professor displayed “negligence and disregard” and claimed that the word is usually said with a pause between the two syllables, which the professor did not do. 

In response, the professor was reported to have now apologized and agreed to take a short-term pause while the university continues reviewing the situation.

This isn’t the first time a professor has been put on leave or fired because of a mispronunciation or a seemingly innocent act.

A recent similar incident occurred last month when a professor was put on leave for asking a foreign student named, “Phuc Bui,” to use a different name for fear it would offend other students.

Another teacher was also branded “racist” for resting her eyes during an “anti-racism Zoom call.”


Many on Twitter pointed out the severity of mob-mentality and “cancel culture,” and the detrimental effects it could have on those who say words that may sound like other words in different cultures or contexts.