Merriam-Webster to change its definition of the word ‘racism’ after a woman emails claimed it fell short of including the systemic oppression of certain groups of people.
Kennedy Mitchum, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa, contacted Merriam-Webster, which has published its dictionaries since 1847, to propose updating the term.
“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.'”
The Merriam-Webster first 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.”
Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster, said in an emailed statement to AFP that the definition would be modified after Mitchum’s request.
The dictionary currently offers three definitions of racism, and Sokolowski said that the second definition touches on Mitchum’s point and will be made clearer.
“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.”
One of the dictionary’s editors told Mitchum that the definitions of other words “related to racism or have racial connotations” would also be updated, without specifying which ones.
“We apologize for the harm and offence we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner,” the editor wrote, according to a message published by Drake University and retweeted by Mitchum.
The Merriam-Webster site, where the definitions are available for free, had nearly 50 million unique visitors in May, according to the SimilarWeb site.