Merriam-Webster Dictionary Will Redefine Racism to Include ‘Systemic’ Oppression

student with dictionary
Daniel Sancho/Flickr

The Merriam-Webster dictionary is editing the definition of the word “racism” after a Missouri woman wrote to the company requesting that the definition match what she learned at university, that the word really means the “systemic oppression” of groups of people.

Missouri woman Kennedy Mitchum said that she wrote to Merriam-Webster to make the change after she argued with people about the definition of “racism” and realized that her definition didn’t match the dictionary’s, according to a report by KMOV4.

Now, the dictionary says that it will revise the definition of “racism” to include the “systemic” oppression of certain groups of people.

“With everything going on, I think it’s important everyone is on the same page,” said Mitchum, who recently graduated from Drake University with a degree in law, politics, and society.

“A couple weeks ago, I said this is the last argument I’m going to have about this,” continued Mitchum. “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 them about how I felt about it — saying this needs to change,” she added.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary currently 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.”

“I basically told them they need to include that there is systematic oppression on people,” said Mitchum. “It’s not just ‘I don’t like someone,’ it’s a system of oppression for a certain group of people.”

Merriam Webster Dictionary wrote back, telling Mitchum that “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.”

The altering of the dictionary’s definition of “racism” arrives on the heels of nationwide protests and riots over the death of George Floyd.

According to KMOV4, Alex Chambers, the editor of Merriam Webster Dictionary, said that a revision to the word “racism” is now being drafted, and that the new definition should be expected to be published in the coming months.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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