A Young Woman Of Colour Pushes Merriam-Webster To Reframe Its Definition Of 'Racism'

"I kept having to tell them that definition is not representative of what is actually happening in the world," Mitchum told CNN.

Anushika Srivastava
Jun 10, 2020 11:16 IST
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Kennedy Mitchum, a 22-year-old graduate from Drake University, US, recently suggested Merriam-Webster to change their definition of racism. Mitchum found the definition to be inadequate, especially when people would point to the dictionary definition of racism to prove that they aren't racists. Mitchum is of the view that racism occurs on a much wider spectrum, and that systematic oppression among a group of people isn't included in the dictionary definition.


She hence mailed the Merriam-Webster last month, because she wanted the publisher to know that she thought its definition of the word racism is inadequate, CNN reported. However, she was surprised when she actually received a response from the editor, and further, the company also decided to update their entry. "I basically told them that they need to include that there's systematic oppression upon a group of people," she told the local CBS affiliate KMOV. "It's not just, 'Oh, I don't like someone,"' NDTV reported.

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The Definition Of Racism And Reality Are Different


"I kept having to tell them that definition is not representative of what is actually happening in the world," she told CNN. "The way that racism occurs in real life is not just prejudiced it's the systemic racism that is happening for a lot of black Americans," she added. Mitchum said that she sent her mail on Thursday and received a response from the editors the next morning. After a few emails, Chambers agreed that the entry should be updated and said a new definition is being drafted.

"This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem," Chambers said in the email, which was accessed by CNN. "We sincerely thank you for repeatedly writing in and apologize for the harm and offense we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner."

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What Is The Definition Of Racism In Merriam-Webster?

Merriam Webster defines racism as "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." However, Peter Sokolowski, an editor at Merriam Webster told CNN that their entry also defines racism as "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," which would cover systematic racism and oppression.

"I think we can express this more clearly to bring the idea of an asymmetrical power structure into the language of this definition, but it's there," he said.


Mitchum hopes that this change in the definition will help people comprehend the meaning of racism more clearly. "I was super happy because 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," she said.


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