Meriam-Webster bows to pressure, accepts to redefine racism

by Maruf Adedeji

Meriam-Webster has accepted to re-define the word “racism” after receiving an e-mail from Kennedy Mitchum, a recent graduate from Drake University, requesting the dictionary publisher to review its inadequate definition of the word.

The dictionary editor responded to Mitchum and expressed its readiness to update the entry.

Mitchum’s involvement in critical conversations about racism has beamed lights on the dictionary to prove that they are not racist. Racial issues repeatedly come to the fore lately as the world reacts to George Floyd’s death from the custody of Minneapolis police officers.

The 22-year-old Mitchum lives in Florissant, Missouri, not too far from Ferguson, where protesters took to the street to demonstrate over the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown. The demonstration contributed to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mitchum meant to tell the dictionary company that the definition does not represent the true happening in the world.

“The way that racism occurs in real life is not just prejudice. It’s the systemic racism that is happening for a lot of black Americans,” she said.

Meriam-Webster’s dictionary initially defined 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”. But the new definition of the word racism is now “being drafted” for the entry update, according to Meriam-Webster’s editor Alex Chambers.

Mitchum said she sent her email to Mariam-Webster’s dictionary on a Thursday night and got a reply from editor Alex Chambers the next morning.

Peter Sokolowski, an editor at large at Meriam-Webster, said dictionary definitions are usually short due to limited space in their print editions. The new trends are changing this traditional way as many people now use the dictionary online.

Mitchum said she was elated because she felt that the move for the new definition would bring significant changes to many positive conversations about race and the world at large, especially people’s views of things.

Mariam-Webster updates the dictionary two to three times a year.

“The new language will probably be ready for the next update,” Sokolowski said.

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