If Employers Believe That Hearing the Mandarin “Neige” (Meaning “That”) “Affect[s]” Black Students’ “Mental Health,”
I wrote on Thursday about USC Business School professor Greg Patton (who, among other things, is a specialist on business in China) being taken out of his business communication course, and being replaced by a different professor. Prof. Patton’s offense: In a discussion of “filler words,” such as “um” and “er,” he gave the Mandarin “neige” (literally, “that”) as a foreign example—and he pronounced the word, as do many other Mandarin speakers, similarly to “nigger.” The word is apparently indeed used, routinely, as a filler word in Mandarin.
The USC business school dean’s actions, and his abject apology for Prof. Patton’s actions, has been met (rightly, I think) with a good deal of criticism. I blogged about one example, a letter from nearly 100 USC graduates who say the school’s actions “cast insult toward the Chinese language.” But here I want to suggest that the “Black MBA Candidates c/o 2022” letter demanding the action, and in particular this passage, actually risks harming the employment prospects of black students:
Our mental health has been affected. It is an uneasy feeling allowing him to have the power over our grades. We would rather not take his course than to endure the emotional exhaustion of carrying on with an instructor that disregards cultural diversity and sensitivities and by extension creates an unwelcome environment for us Black students. His careless comment has impacted our ability to focus adequately on our studies.
Let’s consider a rational employer who is wondering whether to hire a black applicant to work in China, or anywhere else where the applicant would have to work around Mandarin speakers (whether those speakers form most of the environment or only a modest portion). And let’s assume the employer actually believes the factual claims in the letter.
The employer, I take it, will wonder: How will the applicant be able to effectively function around Mandarin speakers, who say the same thing the professor said, except much more often? (To be sure, the word is apparently pronounced differently depending on the speaker’s regional accent, but it often will be pronounced this way.)
The applicant’s mental health, the emplo
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