Merriam Webster Adjusts The Definition Of Racism After A Request

  • AUTHOR: dua
  • POSTED ON: June 11, 2020

The American dictionary is changing its definition of racism after an email was received from a young black woman.

If the recent events are to be taken into account, the young woman’s request makes complete sense. Kennedy Mitchum sent out an email to Merriam-Webster and argued that the definition of racism is incomplete without the inclusion of systemic oppression. The editor onboard has agreed to make adjustments.

The event that led to this update in the definition is, of course, the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests across the world. The deceased was put to death by a cruel white police officer who held his knee on his neck for almost nine minutes.

When the protests emerged, racist people used the definition available on Merriam-Webster to prove that they were not racist. The previous definition didn’t explain the broader issues because of which people failed to recognize the racial inequality present in society.

Current definition on Merriam-Webster:

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

While speaking to BBC, Kennedy Mitchum said that she first became aware of the faulty definition 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. There were a lot of things that were racist, but it wasn't as blatant." – She said.

She added: "Some troll was messaging me trying to say 'You don't understand what racism truly is.”

"They were saying: 'You're in school, 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 color of my skin and the systems that are in place."

Basically, people began to use the definition as evidence to prove her wrong. They justified their discrimination and considered themselves not racist because the definition was incomplete.

Hence, on 28th May, Mitchum emailed the website and explained the issue: “both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color".

She was surprised to receive a response the next day.

Source: The Daily Dot

Peter Sokolowski is the editorial manager of Merriam-Webster who approved the request and told BBC that he would be expanding the second definition further.

"It could be expanded ... to include the term systemic and it will certainly have one or two example sentences, at least.”

The website will be consulting with the work of experts in black studies, and hopefully, the changes could be seen by August. 

Updated June 11, 2020
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