Merriam-Webster Revises Definition Of ‘Racism’ In Wake Of George Floyd Killing

OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

Merriam-Webster dictionary has revised its definition of racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, two weeks ago.

Since Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, protests and riots have urged a national conversation on race relations and potential legal and social reforms.

The dictionary is doing its part to change the way people speak about race relations after it was approached by a recent Drake University graduate Kennedy Mitchum, from Florissant, St Louis, Missouri.

As the Independent reports, Mitchum graduated with a degree in law, politics and society, and wrote a letter to Merriam-Webster advocating for a change in the definition to include “systemic oppression.”

“I know what racism is, I’ve experienced it, so I emailed them,” she reportedly wrote in an email.

“I basically told them that they need to include that there’s a systematic oppression upon a group of people. It’s not just, ‘Oh, I don’t like someone,’” the recent graduate added.

Drake University supported their alumna in a post on social media, sharing a correspondence between Mitchum and Merriam-Webster.

“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,” Merriam-Webster said in the email.

It continued: “It also does a disservice to readers of all races. Because people often turn to the dictionary to gain a more nuanced view of the way a word is being used in a particular context, and because the use of the word racism to specifically describe racial prejudice combined with systemic oppression is now so common, ignoring this meaning of the word may leave our readers confused or misled.”

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According to the report, Merriam-Webster was working on a revision to the word “racism” as well as other race-related words and phrases:

Merriam-Webster said that a revision to the entry for racism is currently being drafted, in addition to other entries for words relating to racism or with racial connotations.

“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 apologise for the harm and offence we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner,” the email said.

Speaking about the impact individuals can have amid the Black Lives Matter protests, Ms Mitchum said that she thinks “everyone really needs to realise what their strengths are and how they can contribute to the movement”.


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