After a 22-year-old woman made a complaint about the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of the word “racism,” the 189-year-old dictionary company made the change on her behalf, now including a more broad and “systemic” understanding of the term.
Kennedy Mitchum, a recent college graduate from Missouri, made the complaint following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last month after a police officer had his knee on the 46-year-old’s neck for over eight minutes during an arrest, as shown in viral video footage.
“With everything going on, I think it’s important everyone is on the same page,” Mitchum told KMOV-TV, explaining that the current Merriam-Webster definition of “racism” is too simple.
“So, a couple weeks ago,” she continued, “I said this is the last argument I’m going to have about this. I know what racism is, I’ve experienced it time and time and time again in a lot of different ways, so enough is enough. So, I emailed [Merriam-Webster] about how I felt about it. Saying this needs to change.”
“I basically told them they need to include that there is systematic oppression on people,” the recent Drake University grad explained. “It’s not just ‘I don’t like someone,’ it’s a system of oppression for a certain group of people.”
Currently, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of “racism” reads as follows: “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.”
The current secondary definition of the term reads: “a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles” and “a political or social system founded on racism.”
After some email correspondence between the editor of Merriam Webster and Mitchum, Alex Chambers wrote back, “While our focus will always be on faithfully reflecting the real-world usage of a word, not on promoting any particular viewpoint, we have concluded that omitting any mention of the systemic aspects of racism promotes a certain viewpoint in itself.”
According to Chambers, a “revision” for the definition is in the works.
“This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” she said. “We sincerely thank you for repeatedly writing in and apologize for the harm and offense we have caused in failing to address the issue sooner. I will see to it that the entry for racism is given the attention it sorely needs.”
“Chambers said they could not give a date on upcoming publications but that a revision should be expected in the coming months,” KMOV-TV reported.
Mitchum says she’s “super happy” about the definition change. “I really felt like that was a step in a good direction for a lot of positive change for a lot of different positive conversations that can really help change the world and helps change how people view things,” the recent grad told CNN.
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