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Merriam-Webster will update ‘racism’ definition after request


Merriam-Webster Dictionary will be updating its definition of the word “racism” after a complaint from one Missouri woman, reports said on Tuesday.

Kennedy Mitchum, 22, led the charge for the dictionary to rework its entry last month, following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers.

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

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.

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of 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.”

But Mitchum said that definition was too simple and could be used by people to overlook broader issues of racial inequality and emailed the 189-year-old company demanding change.

“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,” Mitchum told the outlet.

Mitchum said she was surprised to receive a response, and that, after a couple of back-and-forth emails Merriam-Webster agreed a revision was needed.

“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,” read one of the emails she received.

Alex Chambers, the editor of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, told Mitchum that “this revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem.”

“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 wrote.

A revision should be expected in the coming months, Chambers said, though he did not provide an exact date.

The dictionary’s current second definition of the term “racism” includes: “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 that even more clear in our next release,” Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster, said in a statement to The Post.

“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,” Sokolowski said.

Mitchum told CNN that she was “super happy” about the expected 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 said.

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