22-Year-Old Woman Complains, So Merriam-Webster Dictionary Will Redefine ‘Racism’

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Here’s Merriam-Webster’s 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
2a: 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

Looks pretty complete, right?


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A 22-year-old woman who recently graduated with a degree in law, politics and society complained about the definition. So, of course, Merriam-Webster, a dictionary that nearly 190 years old, decided to change the entry.

“It’s not just disliking someone because of their race,” Kennedy Mitchum wrote in a Facebook post. “This current fight we are in is evidence of that, lives are at stake because of the systems of oppression that go hand-in-hand with racism.”

“With everything going on, I think it’s important everyone is on the same page,” Mitchum told KMOV-TV. “So, a couple weeks ago, 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.”

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that the dictionary’s second definition is “divided to express, first, explicit institutional bias against people because of their race, and, second, a broader implicit bias that can also result in an asymmetrical power structure.”

“This second definition covers the sense that Ms. Mitchum was seeking, and we will make its wording even more clear in our next release,” he said. “This is the kind of continuous revision that is part of the work of keeping the dictionary up to date, based on rigorous criteria and research we employ in order to describe the language as it is actually used.”

“This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” Chambers 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 said she is “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,” she told told CNN.

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