Merriam-Webster to make update racism definition after request

Merriam-Webster to make update racism definition after request
Kennedy Mitchum made the suggestion to Merriam-Webster. Source: KENNEDY MITCHUM
3 Min Read

Daily US Times: After receiving an email from a young black woman, the American dictionary Merriam-Webster is to change its definition of the word racism.

Kennedy Mitchum, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa, sent a mail to the authorities suggesting that the definition should include a reference to systemic oppression.

An editor of the dictionary then responded, later agreeing to update their definition.

The decision comes amid international anti-racism protests after the death of George Floyd – an African American- in Minneapolis under police custody.

Mr Floyd died after a white police officer Derek Chauvin held a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Ms Mitchum had encountered people pointing to the dictionary to prove that they were not racist because of the way they felt towards people of colour, and felt the definition needed to reflect broader issues of racial inequality in society.

She said she first became aware of the shortcomings of the current definition around four years ago.

“I was just speaking on my social media about racism and just about how the things I was experiencing in my own school and my own college,” she said in an interview with the BBC.

“There were a lot of things that were racist but it wasn’t as blatant,” she said.

Ms Mitchum says the definition of the dictionary was being used by people attempting to tell her she was wrong.

Merriam-Webster’s current definition of racism

1. a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2. a) a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles, b) a political or social system founded on racism

3. racial prejudice or discrimination

“Some troll was messaging me trying to say ‘You don’t understand what racism truly is.”

People were copy-and-pasting the definition to her in an attempt to prove racism could only exist if you believe your race to be superior to another.

“They were saying: ‘You’re in school [university], so what do you mean? You have privileges as well’. I said it’s not about that, it’s about the hurdles that I had to jump over because of the colour of my skin and the systems that are in place.”

Ms Mitchum emailed Merriam-Webster on 28 May to point out that racism is “both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin colour”.

She received the surprising reply the next day in that Merriam-Webster said the “issue needed to be addressed sooner rather than later” and that a revision would be made.

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editorial manager, told the BBC that the wording of the second definition of racism will be “even more clear in our next release”.

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