After a request from a reader, the Merriam-Webster dictionary will update its definition for the word “racism.”
According to the New York Post, Missouri resident, Kennedy Mitchum led the charge for the dictionary to rework its entry following the death of George Floyd. “The Florissant resident, a recent graduate of Drake University, said she was spurred to action by recent conversations she had about racism and injustice, where people would point to Merriam-Webster’s definition to dismiss her concerns.”
The current primary definition for racism is “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.”
As Mitchum points out, the definition was too simple and could overlook broader issues of racial inequality. So she decided to email the company. She said, “I basically told them they need to include that there is systematic oppression on people. It’s not just ‘I don’t like someone,’ it’s a system of oppression for a certain group of people.”
After constant contact with Kennedy Mitchum, the outlet agreed to the revision.
There is a alternate definition for the word, and Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster, said in a statement that their updated description would cover more of that verbiage. “This second definition covers the sense that Ms. Mitchum was seeking, and we will make that even more clear in our next release.”
He added, “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.”
The second definition states “explicit institutional bias against people because of their race, and, second, a broader implicit bias that can also result in an asymmetrical power structure.”
A revision will be made in the coming months.